Canadian Mining Abroad: CBSR Gives Insight into Challenges and Opportunities (Part 2 of 2)
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
Curious to learn more about the challenges, and potential solutions for responsible mining, I spoke with Maria Jose Ramos, a CSR Advisor with Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR). In this second of a two-part series, Maria Ramos speaks to the opportunities companies have as they strive to gain social license to operate.
Addressing the challenges
Legacy issues: "It's important to disassociate from past operators, especially if there are any contentious issues associated with it," says Ramos. A new operator must demonstrate a difference. "Listen to the community and be willing to incorporate their feedback into your plans. This shows that their concerns really matter."
Managing expectations: Jobs are a big issue and effective communication is key. That includes informing regional residents about the hiring process, and the different phases of operation. What skills are required for each phase and how many people are needed. Manage expectations.
Social Issues: Tackling potential and existing social issues can be done through strategic community investment. "Really understand who the key stakeholders are, their interests, and key issues in the region where the company might have an ability to impact as well. It is important also to understand government development plans so that you are nor replacing the role of the government and those plans can be leveraged."
Getting everyone around the table: A proactive stakeholder engagement approach helps identify the right people to engage with, and issues to address in a proactive manner. "The exploration phase generates the highest expectations among stakeholders. Not engaging at this stage is a missed opportunity to address key concerns, which also equals lost time to build trust," Ramos explains.
Trust in government: Where there is government corruption, payment of royalties to an un-trusted institution reflects poorly on the company. Since royalties must be paid, no matter the government, companies can show where the money is going. Ramos notes, "a company that wishes to build trust among the local communities and show true transparency, should proactively disclose its royalty payments locally, so that communities can also hold their local governments accountable."
In countries where there is no capacity by authorities to monitor and regulate mining operations, solutions need to be creative. Ramos gave a recent example of a community-based water monitoring committee, established by a mining company. Third-party independent technical capacity support has been established to teach community members how to take water samples and evaluate results. Money is kept in a trust fund managed by the independent water management committee. Ramos notes that while the water management committee is financially dependent on the company, it is nonetheless independent in their opinions. A grievance mechanism is also in place to make sure that if a community member has an issue, the committee is there to address it.
Misconception about mining: "Communications plays a key role," says Ramos. She notes that explaining upfront the various phases of mining, its processes and ways the company intends to minimize all impacts, is a good way to begin building ongoing, continuous communication with the community.
Avoiding the "greenwash" label
For Ramos, transparency is at the core to effective communication. "Show how you are doing your work and be willing to integrate feedback from communities - this shows that their concerns really matter to you as a company." I wanted to know how companies manage media attention and conflicting opinions about what is happening at the mine site before and during operation. "Back it up with facts," Ramos replies. She continues, "the sector has very big challenges and can't do it all alone. Companies should partner with credible institutions that share common objectives." Community organizations, NGOs, government development agencies, etc., can help with establishing meaningful programs.
Never ignore media attention
It's very common that companies, when receiving negative media attention, often refuse to talk to their adversaries. "That is not the right approach and makes the other side stronger," says Ramos. "Companies must continue the dialogue even with unfriendly voices."
In Part 1 of this series, Maria Jose Ramos provided insight into the challenges Canadian companies face when operating abroad. Read Part 1 HERE
In a recent blog for CBSR, Ramos wrote Toward a Framework for Resource Extraction Industries. To read the blog click HERE
Image: Waihi Opencast Gold Mine, by Orinoko42 (Creative Commons via Flickr)