Embracing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become much more than a matter of public relations. Today there are several practical and legal reasons for companies to have a CSR strategy in place. MINING.com interviewed experts in the field Dr. Elizabeth Adey and James McNally from UK-based consultancy Wardell Armstrong to understand how policies are changing and what companies should do about it.
Here is part I of II. Answers provided by Dr. Elizabeth Adey.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an evolving concept and definitions vary based on the perception of an individual and their previous experiences and geography.
One definition is that it relates to ensuring responsible operations during all phases of a project, considering environmental, community and human rights aspects.
In the mining industry CSR is about balancing impacts on the environment and people and ensuring positive impacts are maximised — such as through local employment and engagement; and adverse environmental and social impacts are mitigated and managed.
Social responsibility can be proactive; by a business taking steps to increase the positive impact it can have on the community it operates in; or it can be passive, by avoiding engaging in acts that are harmful to the environment or society. Both of these approaches to social responsibility apply to mining companies.
There are many ways in which corporations are ‘held to account’. Beside individual legal challenges, negligence or a lack of willingness to operate responsibly can have reputational impacts. Bad publicity can have serious consequences for a company and may affect their ability to maintain existing licences, to obtain future licences, in addition to affecting their credit rating and ability to gain finance to develop projects.
Social media and technology have changed the way people can access and receive information and this has been a major contributing factor to changing perceptions of how companies consider reputational risks. This technology provides a platform for companies being held accountable for their actions and gives individuals and civil society movements a ‘voice’.
Managing environmental and social impacts in terms of human rights considerations should form an essential in part of all mining projects.
Unfortunately, research in the mining industry is hindered/limited due to lack of funding. There are some options available to seek funding for collaborative industry and academic projects and Wardell Armstrong is actively involved in seeking out these opportunities. We consider that research benefits the wider mining sector, in addition to how we operate as professionals working on mining projects.
Corporate social responsibility as a concept will continue to evolve and one of the areas I feel passionate about is ensuring human rights considerations are integrated within all aspects of our work on mining projects. This is an area where there are many research opportunities, subject to funding, and this area of expertise will be required even more so in the future, as impacts from climate change and population growth are felt globally.