The Environment, Development and Participation:

The Dilemmas of Asociación Civil Labor  


Cynthia Sanborn

Elsa Del Castillo

Felipe Portocarrero

Martha Chavez


Universidad del Pacífico Perú

Published in


Asociación Civil Labor (Labor Civil Association) is a private nonprofit founded in 1981 in Ilo, a city located in an important mining and fishing area in Southern Peru. Its original mission was to uphold and promote mining industry workers’ rights, but, over the first decade in its existence, the organization expanded its focus to promote sustainable community development and the rights of communities affected by extraction industries. This case is particularly useful to analyze some of the typical challenges confronting organizations that support and advocate basic citizenship rights.

Over the years, Labor consolidated institutionally and had significant impact in environmental protection, raising awareness on the impact of extraction industries and promoting public policies to safeguard this Peruvian area. This case is particularly interesting on account of the close ties built by this NGO with the local administration, which brought many benefits to Ilo’s population. However, these ties also challenged Labor’s identity, mission and autonomy as a non-governmental organization. These challenges came to a head in 1997, when the plan to build a new coal-powered energy plant in an area used for tourism and recreational purposes caused a rift between city hall and the NGO, also dividing the local population. The decisions made by Labor in this regard will have long-term repercussions for its own development, as the organization will be forced to revisit its ties with a significant share of Ilo’s population, its mayor and Labor’s donors.