During Session 3 of the 3rd Mekong Regional Land Forum, we will talk about free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) standards, with the intention to address common concerns of government agencies and private investors about perceived challenges and risks in relation to FPIC application. The session will highlight why FPIC is actually in the best interest of all stakeholders.
What is FPIC?
The concept of FPIC is widely seen as the most appropriate approach for seeking the views of indigenous peoples on activities that affect them and their land and for ensuring that their rights are respected. Although the concept of FPIC originally evolved in relation to indigenous peoples, in principle it is a social safeguard that respects the rights of any community whose livelihoods, access or rights to land will be affected by an external initiative or interest. FPIC consultations allow for an exchange of views and a mutually satisfactory agreement to be reached. That said, FPIC is not a one-off event, nor is it a procedural checklist, but a process wherein affected people are given full information prior to actions being taken, which may or may not lead to consent.
FPIC is based on the following principles:
- Free: there is no coercion, intimidation or manipulation
- Prior: must happen sufficiently in advance of any official approval or action
- Informed: affected peoples should receive clear and sufficient information—in a way they can understand—about the proposed action to make an informed decision
- Consent: an agreement of affected people to go ahead with the proposed action based on a documented process of consultation and participation.
FPIC thus requires the state, companies or local authorities to negotiate in good faith with legitimate representatives of local communities to obtain their uncoerced agreement made with full understanding of what is being proposed, before any actions are taken that affect their land, livelihoods or wellbeing. It also implies that affected people are compensated for the impacts of these decisions.
What are some of the concerns of government officials or the Private Sector?
The term “FPIC” is often avoided in government policy documents, and talking about FPIC in some national contexts might be sensitive. However, in all countries there are policies and practices that require investors and government institutions to engage with communities, inform them, discuss projects and seek some form of agreement. These are the basic elements of FPIC, even if not referred to by name. There are many good practices and positive experiences in the Mekong region that demonstrate the usefulness of FPIC.
Government agencies sometimes view FPIC as costly and time-consuming, and are reluctant to embrace it. The fact that local people are asked for their consent is sometimes perceived as challenging state authority or the higher interests of the nation. It requires authorities to listen, take account of and respond to the concerns of communities affected by any development project. An approach that government officials are often not comfortable with.
For some private investors, FPIC is seen as a major challenge as it can lead to serious modifications to the project, additional costs and delays in implementation. Many companies are uneasy to engage directly with communities and especially large numbers of individual farmers, as it is difficult to bring them together and respond to the diversity of their perspectives. Often, they ask local authorities to mediate the relationship, which also presents challenges.
Why FPIC is useful and in the interest of the Government and the private sector?
During the Forum, projects, investors and government representatives who have been involved in FPIC processes will share their experiences and reflect on the process and outcomes. They will show that FPIC does not necessarily need to be lengthy or complicated. The session reflects on the advantages that the state and private investors themselves may gain in a stronger application of FPIC.
In countries that have already put FPIC procedures into law and practice, FPIC has not stopped development from occurring and has been beneficial for both companies and communities. For investors and governments, FPIC makes good business sense:
- Achieving consent can benefit both the community and the project.
- Going forward with a large-scale project without its acceptance by communities can threaten economic viability of the project – projects that have been consulted with local communities are more successful in implementation.
- Dealing with conflicts can be costly and it makes economic sense to invest and work in peace with your neighbours. Addressing issues of community concern before the project begins is likely to make the project more successful and cost-effective.
- Consultations with local communities can lead to revision of the project design based on local knowledge and reduce overall costs through compromises and alternatives.
- Public relations and reputational aspects play an increasingly important role in international business. Therefore, applying safeguards and standards, and adhering to corporate social responsibilities, will be beneficial for any company.
- Finally, adherence to business standards can help the Mekong countries to promote an image of supporting sustainable investments and development which will attract more responsible investors.
Read more about different views on the benefits of FPIC in these publications:
- Sohn, J. (Ed.), Herz, S., La Vina, A. (2007) Development Without Conflict: The Business Case for Community Consent, Washington DC: World Resource Institute https://www.wri.org/research/development-without-conflict
- Rock, F. (2019). The application of FPIC standards in Cambodia, Discussion Note Series #5. Vientiane: Mekong Region Land Governance. https://www.mrlg.org/publications/the-application-of-fpic-standards-in-cambodia/
- Rock, F. (2019). Does free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) need to be complicated, time-consuming, and costly? A proposal for the promotion and integration of the FPIC approach across various sectors in Cambodia, Discussion Note Series #6. Vientiane: Mekong Region Land Governance. https://www.mrlg.org/publications/does-free-prior-and-informed-consent-fpic-need-to-be-complicated-time-consuming-and-costly/