1.1 Introduction

This handbook addresses community engagement and development, a theme in the Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for the Mining Industry. The program aims to identify key issues affecting sustainable development in the mining industry and provide information and case studies that illustrate a more sustainable basis for the industry. A number of other themed handbooks in the series complement this handbook.

The importance of the social dimension of sustainable development is acknowledged in key industry policy statements, such as the International Council on Mining and Metals’ Sustainable Development Principles (ICMM 2003) and the Minerals Council of Australia’s Enduring Value framework (MCA 2005), both of which have been widely adopted by mining companies for a number of years. Among other things, signatories to these frameworks undertake to contribute to the social, economic and institutional development of the communities in which they operate and to engage with and respond to stakeholders through open consultation processes. In the same way, a growing number of small, medium and large companies have adopted policy frameworks which emphasise that community considerations are integral to each stage of a mining operation, from design and construction through to operation and closure and beyond.

Engaging with communities and contributing towards community development is not only the right thing for companies to do, but also makes good business sense. There is considerable ongoing debate about what is meant by a company’s ‘social licence to operate’ (in simple terms, defined as obtaining and maintaining broad community support and acceptance) and how it can be measured. However, there is little doubt within the sector that productive community relations contribute to smooth operations-leading, in turn, to business success. This handbook examines what is meant by the ‘social licence’ and its ongoing relevance to successful mining projects. It also discusses the challenges involved in establishing a business case for investment in good community engagement and development. What constitutes good current practice in community relations is then considered, including recent developments such as human rights, gender inclusivity and grievance management.

This handbook provides guidance to mining industry participants on how these higher level policy commitments can be translated into improved practices at the mine site. It focuses on the challenges that companies may encounter as they engage with local communities and seek to contribute to their long-term development, using case studies to illustrate how these challenges have been addressed in particular contexts. It concerns itself primarily with relationships between mining projects and their local communities, although other stakeholders are also referred to, as sometimes engagement with broader communities, such as at the state or national level, is also relevant.

Specific aims are to:

  • outline the benefits to companies and operations of engaging with and contributing to the development of communities
  • describe the basic steps involved in effectively planning and managing for community engagement and development
  • set out key principles that should guide these activities
  • highlight examples of evolving leading practice.

The primary audience for the handbook is management at the operational level—the key level for implementing leading practice arrangements at mining operations. The handbook is also relevant to people with an interest in leading practice in the mining industry, including community relations practitioners, environmental officers, mining consultants, governments and regulators, non-government organisations, neighbouring and mine communities, and students. All users are encouraged to take up the challenge to continually improve the mining industry’s sustainable development performance and apply the principles outlined in this handbook.

The geographical focus of this handbook is Australia and New Zealand, although most elements of good community relations and development practice in Australasia would be applicable in other parts of the world and vice versa. In 2011, the Australian Government Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, in cooperation with AusAID, published a handbook aimed at Australian mining and metals companies operating in many parts of the world, Social responsibility in the mining and metals sectors in developing countries (DRET 2011). That international handbook complements this handbook in several ways, going into greater detail about the respective roles of governments and companies, and the risks associated with resource nationalism, among other things.

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