Working with the communities

Working with the communities

These are residents of rural towns and villages in the municipalities of Calama, Ollagüe and San Pedro de Atacama, which together make up the Province of El Loa.

SQM has a sincere interest in collaborating with the communities in the preservation and rescue of the historical and identity heritage and in various programs that promote the social well-being of the residents neighboring the production sites.

Since 2011, the company has published an annual sustainability report based on the international standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

Through various agreements and commitments, SQM today carries out more than 150 plans to collaborate with the development of the area and its neighbors. Social development, education and culture, agriculture and historical heritage are some of the programs it carries out to benefit and support the communities.



    • Support for local cultural and heritage activities: Out of respect for the indigenous culture that represents a large part of its workers, SQM authorizes its collaborators to participate on working days at the Lakitas Festival. In Aymara, laka means mouth and is applied to music made with wind instruments. The activities carried out in this event constitute a celebration of their traditions, rites, local commitments and, above all, the recovery of historical memory.


    • Recovery of heritage: for the past three years, with the support of SQM, indigenous people from different communities have been learning and rediscovering the traditional Licanantai fabric, working with different looms and local material. The process goes from spinning to weaving, through color and design.


    • Wine production at high altitude: “Ayllu” means community in the Kunza language. The company has been working mainly with producers from Toconao in the production of grapes and wine for more than 10 years. Today they produce almost 6,000 bottles/year of various varietals, such as Syrah, Malbec, País, Petit Verdot, Moscatel and blends.
  • Hydroponic crops: SQM works in this area with the communities of Socaire and Talabre. It is Socaire that has led the production of hydroponic lettuce, which is being marketed in different towns, including Calama.


  • Toconao Community Hotel: Following a formal request from Toconao, the company donated the Toconao camp for the community to develop an iconic project that will be an important driver of development for people and the community itself. For two years, the company supported a participatory process to finalize this tourism project for the community. The hotel was planned and developed by them and will be built over the next two years. All the concepts, brands, interior and exterior design, products offered, administration, among others, come from the work carried out by community’s representative committees.

In addition to these examples of projects, this company aims to work closely with, and commit its support to, the neighboring communities, supporting projects and actions that emerge from their “Life Plans”.

Working with the communities

SQM and Corfo

SQM operates on property of the state-owned Production Development Corporation, Corfo, thanks to a contract, which establishes contributions both to the regional government, as well as to the municipalities of Antofagasta, María Elena and San Pedro de Atacama. SQM contributes 1.7% of its sales of products coming from the Salar de Atacama (in 2018 this was US $ 13 million) and in parallel makes a contribution of between US $ 10 and US $ 15 million annually to the Atacama communities.

Regarding the R&D contribution in 2018, this was US $ 8.1 million.

*The 2018 contract covered only 9 months of the 12 months total*

Lithium´s neighbors

Flora and fauna

SQM works in the driest desert in the world. In the core of the Salar there is only a crust of salt and there has never been any flora or fauna, nor has any element of environmental interest been recognized.

In the surrounding area, there is plant and animal life, and for its protection, the SQM Environmental Impact Study has a robust environmental monitoring plan that has not shown significant deviations in the vegetation cover.

Periodically, in addition, a map with the respective distances of the communities in relation to the operation of SQM in the Salar de Atacama is published.



SQM protects, through various actions, the flamingo population in the area. It has to do with not intervening in their habitat and generating the least environmental impact with operations.

The flamingo area is quite mobile, according to the migratory characteristics of these birds, which range between Chile, Bolivia, Argentina and Peru.

Here are periods when a smaller population is sighted, but the figures show that flocks have not decreased, but are migrating to different sectors, according to a number of factors.


Monitoring program

Since 1995, the SQM company has participated in an environmental monitoring program as part of a collaborative agreement with the National Forest Corporation (CONAF). This program, which is carried out in the months of January, April, June and October of each year, aims to detect timely changes in the surface and depth of lakes, bird populations, the supply of food for flamingos, local physical and chemical conditions and human activities, among other variables.

As a result of this monitoring program, the company has collected 20 years of data on flamingo populations in the Salar de Atacama and has contributed to the activities carried out by CONAF, including an annual flamingo census in approximately 52 high Andean wetlands in the north of Chile and the Antofagasta Region, carried out since 1997.

The SQM company has been voluntarily monitoring the reproductive cycle of flamingos since 2007, observing the three flamingo species in the area: Andean, Chilean and James.

The charts show the censuses for January and April 2019.

It is important to note that during the summer of 2020 the census was carried out, but the rains began and monitoring could not be completed until February. This event, considering its great magnitude, clearly affected the presence of the birds. On the other hand, in April it can be seen that there was an increase, the abundance being relatively similar to the years 2017 and 2018.