In a constantly changing world, which is also increasingly digitally connected, complacency is simply not an option, especially in industries filled with risk and conflict, such as the mining industry. There is an unprecedented race underway for the world’s biggest commodities. Without metals, fuels, and minerals, daily life as we know it would be impossible. And as the world is growing increasingly demanding, the pressures on the mining industry are mounting, and new challenges are emerging, such as the challenge to implement sustainable Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) practices.
As the top global industries like agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing are growing to accommodate increasing demand, there has been a massive push for CSR, particularly in the realm of human rights and the use of clean energy and technologies. This also applies to mining, along with the responsibility to ensure that the living conditions of local communities are improved and not negatively affected by mining operations. This could mean investment in local infrastructure and maintaining environmental standards. It could also mean making other improvements, e.g. fostering microbusiness and investing in human capital through education and training. Implementing CSR in mining can be challenging as it is highly dependent on locality and can be affected by social, environmental, and economic factors.
Mining industry giants like Glencore Xstrata, BHP Billiton, AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., and Barrick Gold Corp. claim to have major CSR commitments. And yet, most of these mining companies continue to be featured in reports about environmental degradation and human rights violations. Unfortunately, there is a lot of anti-industry bias in the public sphere and a lot of positive CSR policies go unnoticed. There is a general impression that not enough is being done and there is even a term that has been coined for it: “sustainababble.” So, what is actually the truth? Let’s take a look at what is really happening in mining companies when it comes to CSR.
The latest paradigm shift in the mining industry places an emphasis on human rights. While health and safety rules first emerged over three decades ago and environmental initiatives became the norm in the early 1990s, human rights have only become a priority in the past five years or so. In an industry that is becoming progressively more tech-driven, tensions with those who are unemployed have been increasing.
Despite negative media coverage, mining companies across the globe are taking note and many are doing something about the situation. For example, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. operates one of the largest copper and gold mines in West Papua in Indonesia and has a workforce of which 99% are Indonesians. The workforce at their Tenke Gungurume mine in the DRC consists of 98% Congolese nationals. Rio Tinto is the largest private employer of indigenous Australians. According to Rio Tinto executives, CSR begins with basic respect. Since the 1990s, the company has worked with aboriginal tribes to improve CSR in Australia. Besides making sure the workforce mainly consists of locals, they also created a policy that tackles regional development and funding to indigenous Australians.
Human rights are not only about fair employment practices. Mining is also an industry long known for conflict situations in mining operations. In this regard, it is usually NGOs that take charge of implementing positive change. This ranges from community-based initiatives to regional activism and involves organisations like Global Witness, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and The Nature Conservancy. Additionally, many NGOs, think tanks, and university organisations have been creating policies aimed at educating mining communities and the outside world on CSR practices. Social media platforms are used to report on mining issues, and most of the “watchdog” organisations are taking a balanced stance listing both positive and negative aspects of conflict. Mining Watch Canada and Protest BHP Billiton are two such organisations that regularly chronicle alleged violations.
In many ways, geopolitical forces are shifting to accommodate miners, especially in frontier markets like the DRC, Angola, and Mozambique where mining companies are becoming known as a stabilising force. Legacies in the mining industry, such as the impact of the rule of apartheid on the industry, continue to play a pivotal role on CSR in African mining. One example of such is the brutal massacre at Marikana. However, a shift is taking place, and it is a positive one. Anglo American Kumba Iron Ore has become an integral part of the community in South Africa’s Cape Province and has established several free mobile clinics that assist with various medical procedures, from eye testing to disease screening and even surgery. While the ties between mining companies and communities are not always well defined, there is definitely a global drive for positive change.