I’ve just come off a week without sleep. In Toronto, for the 80th year in a row, the PDAC Convention was in town, this time with 30,000 attendees.
But a couple of years ago, this alone would hardly have been cause for a CSR Counsellor to go without sleep. What’s different this year is the palpable buzz around CSR issues. And the incredible interest people from around the world had in hearing more.
I had a chance to chat with one of the organizers of the first CSR event at PDAC, back in 1998. That year, he told me, they had 40 people in the room, and half of them were the speakers! From that intimate chat, we’ve gone to this: six full sessions in the PDAC CSR Event Series, plus many more side meetings on these very topics. In other words, thousands of people are now in on the conversation. To me, this buzz and engagement is all to the good and signals a key change in the discussion. We now see the debate moving away from “whether to engage in CSR” to “how” and “when” and “what.”
The PDAC organized six formal CSR Event series discussions, covering topics from stakeholder engagement in exploration to corruption in the mining sector to free, prior and informed consent to human rights. What they all had in common was “buzz” – I showed up five minutes late for one of these CSR Events and had to elbow my way into the room. Literally. In a room built for 100, folks were sitting on the floor, and standing 10 deep in the back. For 2 hours. It was the same story for each of these sessions – standing room only, 150 people packed in a room for hours of discussion. For the CEO panel on strategy and sustainability, about 500 attendees heard how CEOs of major and junior companies are moving on CSR issues.
I was fortunate enough to have a speaking role at one of the PDAC CSR Events, organized by Control Risks, on the topic of “Business and Human Rights,” but I also had a chance to be part of many other CSR workshops, outreach sessions and meetings held as side events over the course of the week. I heard a number of common themes. First, there is broad interest in tackling tough issues from all kinds of perspectives – most panels and audiences had a mix of people from companies, law firms, consultants, civil society, investors, host country governments, academics. On the Sunday before PDAC officially opened, for example, I spoke at the regional meeting of the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining (IGF) a group of some 43 countries working to advance mining and sustainable development. Canada has been at the forefront of the IGF since its inception in 2002. IGF members recently created a “mining policy framework” outlining best practices for government policy on a whole range of issues – environment, socio-economic benefits, fiscal and legislative regimes, post-mining transition, artisan mining. People recognize the complexity of the issues and aren’t shying away from the discussion of appropriate responsibilities – across all sectors, people noted that different stakeholder groups have important responsibilities to advance the CSR agenda for mining.
Another key theme that came up often was the need to move away from seeing CSR activities as an “event” or an outcome. CSR, it was argued, is a process, of building relationships, trust and mutual respect, understanding sustainable development, sharing information and altering plans. Some of the recent revisions in the IFC Performance Standards are meant to signal this important change. Such an approach is scalable too, as evidenced by the many smaller companies that spoke along these very lines. Lots of good ideas were floated out that would enable juniors to share more expertise and reduce costs. Other panels and discussions highlighted the complexity of the issues in the real world – social issues and CSR are not straightforward. Paradoxically though, there appears to be both a dearth and proliferation of guidance. While many cautioned about the overwhelming “bevy” of initiatives, programs and standards, others also noted that truly practical approaches and tools remain either nascent or unknown. Which gives us lots more to talk about next year at PDAC!
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