Why didn’t the Boliden case settle?

Reprinted from CSRWire Talkbalk

Sometime later this year or early next, lawyers for Swedish mining giant Boliden will head to court in northern Sweden to square off with lawyers for over 700 community members from Arica, Chile.

A Clean-up Gone Wrong

The dispute concerns some 20,000 tons of arsenic-laden smelting waste that Boliden off-loaded in the mid-1980s to an inexperienced Chilean enterprise that claimed it could “process” the waste, but in fact just dumped it on the outskirts of town. Boliden claims the dumping wasn’t its fault; the Chileans say Boliden was negligent.

The lawsuit is a vindication of the affected Arica community’s decades of effort to demand justice, but at the same time presents them with new uncertainties: a jurisdictionally complex case, a new round of legal costs (albeit to be borne by the lawyers), the prospect of lengthy appeals, and litigation’s well-deserved reputation for driving even the most embattled parties farther apart.

Boliden, which in its latest Annual Report talks about wanting to “highlight the positive role that a responsible mining industry plays in society,” can’t be looking forward to the spectacle either.

What Happened to Negotiation?

Indeed, no sane business wants litigation—especially litigation involving alleged human rights and environmental abuses. That’s why CSR observers often find litigation itself less interesting than picking through the wreckage of failed pre-trial Boliden-minenegotiations to try to figure out what went wrong. The Boliden case is a particularly interesting and mysterious debris field because a number of factors suggest that the conditions for a negotiated settlement were ripe. Continue reading