Mining and Corporate Social Responsibility

At the recent Human Rights workshop held in conjunction with the Ninth Annual Cinmipetrol Mining and Oil Industry Conference in Cartagena, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos opened his remarks by quoting Heraclitus of Ephesus: “The only constant is change.”

This is a stimulating thought, as the role we play as management consultants in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) space is to get all stakeholders on the same page and moving in the same direction toward a common goal. The ever-evolving realm of CSR, and its many shapes and forms, aims to guide processes and tools in an attempt to solve unique social issues now perceived as the most threatening factor in bringing a mining project to life. Our unique challenge is bringing many different issues and interests to the table, and building a common perspective and one common goal when the only constant is change.

The last several years has seen the evolution of CSR grow through the acceptance of “generally accepted” frameworks for principals, processes and metrics of good governance. The Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining framework and the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s e3 Plus are two voluntary frameworks that are frequently employed by Canadian mining companies.

At the international level, the IFC Performance Standards and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative have also gained a lot of traction in the past several years, thanks to the growth of the responsible investment community and a heightened awareness of government corruption. This year, however, the trend seems to be shifting to specific issues and lessons learned regarding human rights, security, Free Prior and Informed Consent, inclusion and empowerment. The 2011 UN Human Rights Council endorsement of the Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights undoubtedly renewed interest in dealing with these issues.

While CSR consultants continue to stay on top of the trends and attempt to forecast the next phase of CSR evolution in the sector, working with our clients at the ground level bring us back to basics.

Back to basics meaning taking baby steps towards developing a social management system, and leading, coaching, training, empowering both management and local communities to create meaningful partnerships. Each bump in the road that we encounter throughout the engagement process allows us to improve our processes and tailor them to our clients’ and our communities’ needs. 

The story of one of our clients, a junior mining company operating in West Africa, is a true evolution of perspectives from many stakeholders who came together in an almost idyllic fashion, when the potential of a very different outcome was very real. At one point, the project was threatened by leaders in the community. It was through dedication and perseverance that senior management made things right, through the inclusion of stakeholders directly impacted within the permit area. MacCormick was able to help guide the process and get the real issues on the table. This allowed dialogue and negotiations to begin that enabled stakeholders to overcome their fears. It was so successful that senior government officials have recently commended the CEO of this company and his senior team on their approach – setting a new standard for stakeholder engagement in this particular jurisdiction.

This type of work is essential in the junior mining space, as these companies are the first to make initial contact with local communities, and by doing so, set the stage for the relationship throughout the life of a project. While we know how hard it is for juniors to get their projects off the ground without the capital and or capacity they often need, there are solid examples of junior mining companies involved in very innovative CSR initiatives. To this end, we have taken steps to examine the correlation between financial performance, socially responsible activity, and the effective communication of CSR initiatives. 

This summer, we are proudly releasing Canada’s first-ever Socially Responsible Index of junior mining companies listed on the TSX Venture Exchange. The index will profile 20 leaders in CSR and showcase how they excel in their efforts and significantly financially outperform their peers as a direct result. Reporting on social responsibility and implementing community programs signals a commitment to a project and a confidence in that project eventually becomes an economically viable resource. 

We would like to encourage the sharing of success stories. Capital or no capital, there are some global CSR stars in Canada’s own backyard. These companies deserve recognition for their efforts in understanding social compliance and creating real impact in communities.

By Bonnie Lyn de Bartok 

Bonnie Lyn de Bartok is the founder and CEO of MacCormick International Mining Consultancy.

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