4.3 No less important than health and safety

Despite of the mining sector having embraced the concepts of corporate social responsibility and the social licence to operate for over a decade, community engagement and development functions still face challenges in obtaining resources compared with more obviously 'core' functions, such as finance and engineering. Community relations departments at mines report having to struggle for sufficient budgets to carry out their responsibilities, and complain that other sections of the mine do not seem to value community relations expertise unless there is a crisis needing to be solved, as mentioned above in the discussion on quantifying the business case. Footnote 12 This is apparently a common trajectory for 'new' disciplines entering an old established industry, and environment and health and safety disciplines had to undergo the same process before becoming valued as mainstream:

Several decades ago, health and safety was viewed in the same way that many people view social responsibility today. It was the responsibility of a specialist in the company. Accidents were accepted as the aspect of the job that justified higher pay. Today, safety is everyone's responsibility. The leading companies have systems in place to identify dangerous situations so that accidents can be prevented before they happen. The same will eventually be true for the social license. The leading companies will establish positive stakeholder relations before complaints and controversies erupt. (Thomson and Boutilier 2011:1,781)

It is important for community relations practitioners to adequately explain their activities to colleagues in other departments of the mine, and to make opportunities to include members of other functional departments in community engagement activities whenever possible. Although community relations departments tend to focus their attentions outwards, towards engaging external parties, they must understand that being able to deliver outside the fence is dependent upon the quality of internal engagement and alignment:

[Bringing local 'social licence' work back into the business, under the accountability of day to day business managers, not strategists and polemicists at the centre, is the key to success. Industry has not 'farmed out' safety accountability, success has come from eliminating safety departments perse, and making safety an explicit hour by hour accountability of operational managers. Similarly, securing 'social licence', which by many accounts is the greatest risk the extractive sector faces, needs more 'in-reach' of the safety accountability kind, and less 'outreach'. (Harvey 2014:10)

Note the advice that the accountability and control of social licence matters should be held at the operation's site, not left to corporate functions and certainly not 'farmed out'. When community engagement and the social licence have become core business in the same way that safety now has, and mining company community relations officers have become integral parts of the business management and planning teams, then mining companies will have progressed towards functioning as socially responsible entities.

Community engagement and development can be challenging—as well as rewarding—and there are no simple recipes for success. Communities are complex and dynamic entities and can react in a variety of ways to the company's efforts to engage with them. There is no guarantee that what works in one context will be readily transferable to another, or that following 'good practice' will always produce the desired outcome. One of the keys to operating effectively, therefore, is to have good systems and processes in place (see Section 3.1), including regular evaluations (Section 3.2.5), and the capacity to learn and adapt when circumstances change.


Footnote 12
See Kemp and Owen (2013), for further discussion.

Return to footnote 12 referrer

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