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The problem with “transparency”: Moral contests and ethical possibilities in mining impact reporting

Sally Babidge

Keywords: CHILE; CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY (CSR); ETHICS; ETHNOGRAPHY; INDIGENOUS PEOPLES; MORALITY

Abstract

Subterranean waters in the mineral-rich and water-poor Atacama desert, northern Chile, are subject to contest between resource-extracting companies and mostly indigenous residents. In complying with global Corporate Social Responsibility standards and local agreements, and in an effort to reduce opposition from indigenous groups, some mining companies have begun to undertake “transparency” reporting regarding the impact of their subterranean water extraction activities. These engagements present a moral interface between two streams of global discourse: the CSR principle of “transparency” on impacts of water extraction and the rights of indigenous peoples to “native waters.” An ethnographic study of a set of such engagements shows indigenous community rejection of the truths that transparency purports to reveal. However, the apparent intractability of moral contest in such globally comparative and locally specific contexts in terms of distrust of the mining companies is tempered by a proposition for the ethics of engagement.

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