Edited by Guy M. Robinson and Doris A. Carson
Chapter 18: Global companies and local community relations: power, access and partnership in food production and rural resource development
Globalisation of food production, processing and retailing focuses our attention on social and economic relations between large-scale, often international, companies and local communities. We need to focus also on emerging and intensifying conflicts between mining and agriculture when the extraction of natural resources such as coal, limestone, or coal seam gas intersects with productive farmland and rural settlements. The ‘local’ and the ‘global’ are tied together in these issues, and ever more so as neoliberal policies are embraced by national governments in ways that tend to dissuade or dismantle regulatory hurdles or oversight for international agri-food and mining developments, and the social and environmental impacts of projects at local levels. Rural communities and regions in these circumstances are ‘contested terrains’, where accessing natural resources can add economic benefit and social vitality to rural areas. However, the risks of degradation of underground and surface water systems, air and land quality, valued rural landscapes, cultural heritage and the social sustainability of rural communities are costs often tied to these benefits. Relations of social power and trust (or distrust) characterise collaboration and conflict between community groups and individuals, company managers and responsible government agencies as they negotiate the risks and benefits of project development. Addressing social and environmental justice dimensions of economic objectives is a necessary focus of actor relations, and informs our understanding of sustainability, which we define as balancing economic goals with social and environmental justice. Powerful companies can push projects through local and national resistance. Yet their power is institutionally limited and project development across food and mining sectors is, to varying degrees, contingent upon the relationships corporate actors generate and maintain with local people. We examine here in particular the ways that mobilised local groups can influence access to natural resources, and how related costs and benefits are distributed.
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