(Excerpts from an article by Dr. Sara Bice, Director of Research Translation, Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Government, University of Melbourne)
IN HER new book, Dr. Sara Bice of the University of Melbourne's School of Government said that mining in the 21st century can deliver the goods and be more socially and environmentally acceptable. Losses in global mining operations are related to declining commodity prices, falling demand and after-tax costs for environmental problems. The financial figures can be very alarming. More than a decade of social scientific research tells us that leading mining companies are adopting a more responsible approach to their work. This shift is critical to staying in business. Good behavior in environmental and social performance is regularly represented as risk management, a means to reduce costs of conflict while doing good. Adoption of corporate social responsibility principles and practices in the global mining industry is today so widespread it is institutionalized.
But institutionalization and prioritization are different beasts. What are the competing priorities in the current market environment? The 21st century mining industry is one that cannot afford to focus only on pure financial strength. Today’s viability comes largely through reputation, legitimacy, acceptance (or at least tolerance) by communities, political acuity and social engagement. Responsible mining involves holistic assessments of companies’ impacts, including on economic, social, human rights and environmental aspects, and on Indigenous communities. In the best cases, it involves understanding how an individual company’s impacts might contribute to accumulated impacts felt when multiple miners operate within a geographic region. It prizes ethical decision-making and adopts emerging practices, including agreement-making processes, in which signing communities are equal partners, have access to data and advice and secure on-going monitoring and evaluation, in addition to working grievance mechanisms.
At the same time, responsible mining is not a license to dig. While humankind will continue to require mining and products from extractives well beyond our lifetimes, current knowledge also tells us that fossil fuels are beyond the bounds of responsibility and we must look to alternatives. Responsible mining is geared to the long-term. As a result, it prioritizes strong governance while also setting out clear boundaries for the company. In developing countries where government capacity is limited or absent, mining companies with trucks and dollars must resist the urge to fill the gaps or take on inappropriate social development roles. Attention to appropriate boundaries encourages questioning and prudence in this area. Hopeful examples from around the globe suggest that responsible mining will transform the 21st century mining industry. But there is also concern among social scientists that innovation in responsible mining practice may die out too soon. Attention is turning elsewhere before optimal gains have been achieved. And the current operating environment poses a considerable threat to the gains that have been won. The challenge now is the sector’s commitment to and belief in the moral and financial value of mining focused beyond the profit margin.
“People are going to want, and be able, to find out about the citizenship of a brand, whether it is doing the right things socially, economically and environmentally.” ~ Mike Clasper, President of Business Development, Proctor and Gamble (Europe)
"Not long ago the concerns of ecologists were as irrelevant to business planners as those of ethicists are today. “Green” has gone from being a disparagement to becoming a badge that no smart company would risk being without. Ethics are similarly en route to becoming a strategic imperative." ~ John Dalla Costa, Ethical Imperative
"We know that the profitable growth of our company depends on the economic, environmental, and social sustainability of our communities across the world. And we know it is in our best interests to contribute to the sustainability of those communities." ~ Travis Engen, CEO, Alcan
"It is not good enough to do what the law says. We need to be in the forefront of these [social responsibility] issues.” ~ Anders Dahlvig, CEO of IKEA, quoted in Financial Times.
"In terms of power and influence you can forget about the church, forget politics. There is no more powerful institution in society than business . . . The business of business should not be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed." ~ Anita Roddick, Business as Usual