With the mining industry now recovering from the downturn in commodity prices, and a new balance emerging in the global demand and supply of minerals, now is the time to reflect, innovate and plan for a more resilient industry in the future, says Mineral Resources Deputy Minister Godfrey Oliphant.
Speaking at the Implementing CSR Strategies in Mining conference, in Johannesburg, earlier this month, Oliphant noted that the industry needed to review its business models to ensure that they were sustainable, efficient and more able to withstand challenges.
In addition to urging the industry to sustain, if not enhance, investment in areas that would support the industry in future – such as skills development, the acquisition of geological information and the establishment of systems and economic infrastructure – Oliphant emphasised that the gaps between miners, government and communities needed to be closed.
“It is only by collaborative efforts that we can protect and grow the mining industry,” he said.
Oliphant highlighted the significance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by underscoring the clear, “raw need” for mining companies to ensure a social licence to operate.
He suggested that supporting the local economy, including through local procurement and investment in beneficiation and local infrastructure, was a critical indicator of companies’ willingness to engage in mutually beneficial transactions and operations.
Oliphant noted that, in this context, the role of CSR could indeed be “catalytic”.
However, he reiterated that “effective CSR can be achieved only when the entire business philosophy, mining operations and management culture are coherent and so structured to offer balanced treatment of capital investment, safe and humane treatment of the workforce, sustainable care of the natural environment and general consultative engagement with the surrounding communities to ensure growing trust and respect for the mining activities”.
Emerging from the dialogue, which explored how to enhance the impact of CSR for the benefit of the mining industry and its stakeholders, were key suggestions.
In discussing the importance of CSR, High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa Sandra McCardell noted that the concept of CSR was ambiguous and its implementation fluctuated, depending on certain factors within the environment.
“Industry needs an appropriate framework to ensure a level playing field for all participants in compliance with all CSR requirements. This sort of framework needs to be a collaboration between industry, government and local communities,” she suggested.
During the discussion, panellists all cautioned that mining might not be feasible, or might even be without a future, unless issues dividing mining companies and communities were addressed.
Social Surveys Africa CEO Bev Russell said the prevailing concept of CSR was deeply flawed, cautioning that mining companies’ CSR work with communities should rather be “at the heart of mining companies” and “not a patchwork quilt of projects but an integrated response”. She stressed the need for a deep understanding of community issues.
Montero Mining CEO Tony Harwood highlighted that all parties did aim to maximise returns on the benefit they could provide through CSR initiatives.
Referencing Benchmarks Foundation executive director John Capel, Harwood enthused on the need for “quantum change”. “And [quantum change] is a dialogue. We need a dialogue that will bring communities, and mining communities, around the table to create sustainable development to achieve an outcome.”
The panellists were unanimous on the need for collaborative efforts between mining companies, government and communities in implementing and progressing CSR strategies.
Chamber of Mines Public Affairs and Transformation senior executive Tebello Chabana, who noted a lack of collaborative regional focus in CSR projects, suggested the need for enhanced, long-term planning.
The other panellists believe it to be critical that mines at regional level work together in collaboration with municipalities and communities.
Capel emphasised the need to accept that change in the implementation of CSR was paramount.
Nonprofit organisation Seriti Institute cofounder Gavin Andersson emphasised the need for accountability in CSR – from the mining company boards and executive directors, as well as from the community and interacting practitioners – cautioning that shareholders and various stakeholders in the mining industry should be educated on the complexity of CSR.
“We have to provide incentives for people in mining houses, as well as for the people in the communities to learn together,” he said.
Canadian gold producer B2Gold MD and Namibia country manager Mark Dawe emphasised that CSR should, in fact, be seen as an investment.
He suggested ways to change the entire paradigm in CSR strategies, including the establishment of a sovereign, or national, fund managed through the Chamber of Mines. Dawe suggested that the funds be drawn from royalties and not corporate taxes.
He further advised that mining companies be forced to adopt the principles of corporate governance.
“CSR is not dispensable. When the going gets tough, which it will, you don’t turf out CSR projects – it’s very much part of the business. Your bankable feasibility includes CSR as a priority and a necessity for doing business,” he averred.
Dawe said mining companies’ engaging with communities to identify and clarify their specific needs was non-negotiable.
He further warned mining companies not to tackle projects that might be unsustainable.
Gold producer Sibanye-Stillwater stakeholder engagement head and senior VP Thabisile Phumo added that mining companies needed to learn to tell their stories from the technical and social perspectives, as they were not always understood, which limited communities’ understanding of how the business worked, diminishing the chances that they would be able to make contributions that would be mutually beneficial.