Sunday, March 1, 2015

PDAC 2015 Community Engagement: never too early, never too often

Who knew anthropologists were so much fun? Sunday afternoon’s CSR stream began with a session, Respecting human rights during the exploration phase. Two of the three panellists were anthropologists by education and training, although currently working in mining. The session managed to be both interesting and amusing, with many anecdotes that both brought a laugh and taught a lesson.

Alison Colwell of Business for Social Responsibility, (the non anthropologist) began with an overview of the Ruggie Principles, and the Protect, Respect, Remedy framework. Although the Principles are not legally binding Ms. Colwell felt that ‘the court of public opinion’ has led many companies to adopt them.
She identified 6 best practices in the area of respecting human rights,
1)Be respectful; treat people fairly. This is particularly important for the exploration team as they are often the first people on the ground
2)Engage early, engage often
3)Recognize that human rights due diligence must be integrated as early as possible -  in the country risk assessment, in initial MOUs, in stakeholder mapping etc.
4)Train staff and contractors about what is expected of them
5)Encourage and incentivize all staff to flag potential human rights issues
6)Have one person responsible for human rights

Next up was a conversation between Chris Anderson of Rio Tinto and France Bourgouin of BSR.
"Increasingly, weirdos like us are getting hired by mining companies” began Dr. Anderson. “When I was last at PDAC, about 10 years ago, there was maybe 5 minutes on CSR in the whole week.” The idea of thinking about people, about communities, about behaviour, moving beyond strictly technical issues has taken hold in mining companies, many of whom acknowledge the concept of a social license to operate.

Is the exploration stage too early to start thinking about human rights or community engagement? Definitely not.  Dr. Anderson felt that “they (the exploration team) need to understand the lens of human rights because that’s how the project is going to be seen by the rest of the world.”
When asked about the challenge of securing resources for ‘the soft stuff’ at a time when mining companies are struggling, Dr. Anderson quipped “‘My motto is ‘soft is hard'. In today’s world digging the ore out of the ground is the easy stuff. Above ground social issues are the challenge.”

In the 1950’s health and safety issues began to be raised, resulting in the education and training of health and safety professionals. Then in the 1970s, environmental issues were addressed, again creating new academic programmes and professional qualifications. Over the last 10 years, we can see the nascent professionalization of dealing with the social impacts of mining. 

Dr. Anderson stated, “It’s still early days in getting mining companies to recognize human rights.” However, there was agreement that with more interdisciplinary training there would be a broader spectrum of mining professionals who understand that mining is not just about geology, it’s also about people.

The session concluded with a few thoughts on what needs to be done - demystify human rights, integrate human rights due diligence into what you are already doing in exploration, offer more interdisciplinary training to people interested in pursuing a career in mining.


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