By Ayoni M. Agbabiaka
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 South Africa’s Mineral Resources Deputy Minister, Godfrey Oliphant.
Speaking at the Implementing CSR Strategies in mining conference, in Johannesburg, yesterday, Oliphant noted that the industry needs to review its business models to ensure that they are more sustainable, efficient and more able to withstand challenges.
In addition to urging the industry to sustain and enhance investment in areas that will support the industry in future – such as skills development, the acquisition of geological information and the establishment of systems and economic infrastructure – Oliphant emphasized that the gaps between miners, the government and communities needed to be closed.
“It is only by collaborative efforts that we can protect and grow the mining industry in a sustainable manner in future,” he said.
Oliphant highlighted the significance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by underscoring the clear, “raw need” for mining companies to ensure their credibility for a social license to operate.
He suggested that understanding the advancing economic aims of the local economy, local procurement and an investment in beneficiation and local infrastructure is 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.”
From the dialogue held on Tuesday, which explored how to enhance the impact of CSR for the benefit of the mining industry and its stakeholders, key suggestions were made.
In discussing the importance of CSR, High Commissioner of Canada to South Africa Sandra McCardell noted that the concept of CSR can be seen as ambiguous and the implementation thereof can fluctuate 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 collaboration between industry, government and local communities,” she suggested.
During the discussion, panelists all cautioned that mining may not be feasible, or may even be without a future, unless issues between mining companies and communities are addressed.
Social Surveys Africa CEO Bev Russell believed the prevailing concept of CSR to be deeply flawed, cautioning that CSR should be “at the heart of mining companies”, and “not a patchwork quilt of projects but an integrated response.”