Mining well: An introduction to Corporate Social Responsibility

28 October 2013 | ResolutionPossible

Our series on minerals, which included a look at our own connections to mines in central Africa, continues with a three-part look at Corporate Social Responsibility in the mining industry. 

Mining in central Africa has become synonymous with images of poverty stricken children undergoing intense physical labour on a backdrop of severe environmental degradation. While these negative perceptions are very real, warranted and justified, responsible mining can bring equally real benefits: from economic and technological development, tax revenues, royalties, contributions to foreign currency reserves, improvements in services, including healthcare, education and employment.

Largely due to increasing consumer awareness, mining companies are becoming more receptive to the idea of rebalancing competing interests, and addressing the big ethical and moral questions facing the industry.

Mulangane Ngweshe Primary School, one of nine schools built through Banro's CSR programme in DRC | Photo: Banro Corporation

Mulangane Ngweshe Primary School, one of nine schools built through Banro’s CSR programme in DRC | Photo: Banro Corporation

The demand for mining companies to source and operate through more ethical practices is typically discussed under the umbrella term, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ (CSR), which, as an isolated concept, is seen as favourable. However, when discussed in context with mining, particularly Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM), the odds of CSR’s capacity to target the core issues appear stacked against it. Later blogs will explore the ethics and motivations of CSR and look at the case study of Banro, a Canadian mining corporation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For now, let’s look at the intention and definition of the term.

What is CSR?

‘CSR’ is a buzzword of this decade. The term has its origins in the sustainable development  movement of the 1970s, which attempted to prioritise the ‘three pillars’ of the environment, society, and the economy in the pursuit of national and global development. Its broad remit makes CSR inherently malleable. Subsequently, corporations from a range of industries are increasingly implementing community-based programmes, which serve to demonstrate that the corporation is proactively offsetting previous and current bad practice and working towards sustainable development, thus appeasing socially conscious consumers and host governments.

Defining CSR

It is difficult to define CSR as a single construct due to its adaptability. In the mining industry, however, CSR can be understood as: “an effort to make resource extraction more acceptable through non-regulated and voluntary actions”. To demonstrate good CSR, mining companies can provide philanthropic benefits to extended communities that are directly or indirectly affected by their projects. There is an element of ‘best practice’ attached to such projects which extends practices or standards across the industry, such as taxation, environmental measures and transparency. Such practices are applied on the basis of what is considered normal or appropriate for the industry, but these benchmarks are usually unregulated and are determined on the company’s discretion.

From the community’s perspective, CSR programmes provide a mechanism of compensation for the social and environmental costs associated with mining. These costs are usually associated with environmental impact, higher food and housing costs, and social impacts resulting from migration. Furthermore, since many communities will not directly benefit from their local mining operation, CSR programmes provide a means through which the benefits can be extended beyond the workforce to include marginalised communities. This serves to improve the relationship between the mining company and the local population.

ResPoss asks:

Should mining companies, operating a commercial business to meet consumer demands, be responsible for the development of the areas surrounding its operations?

Do CSR programmes risk being a surface measure to appease consumers and host populations?

What kind of CSR programmes would best serve the intended purpose? Is there a risk of focusing on programmes that may provide good photo opportunities, instead of those that may be ultimately more effective but less visible?

Join the conversation or email us with your thoughts.

 

Contributing writers/research: Megan Setchell, Harriet Doughty

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