The Canadian government is catching up to what we in the mineral industry have known for more than a decade: corporate social responsibility (CSR) pays big dividends. The feds have released a study, Building the Canadian Advantage, that acknowledges the leading role Canadian miners play when operating in foreign lands and outlining the government’s commitment to sustainable development. The goal is to help the resource industry manage social and environmental risks.
The study was produced in response to the 2007 National Roundtables on CSR which outlined the most urgent issues. “It recognizes that, while most Canadian companies are committed to the highest ethical, environmental and social standards, those that lack this commitment can cause harm to communities abroad and undermine the competitive position of other Canadian companies.”
Through its CSR policy, the government will:
1. Support initiatives to enhance the capacities of developing countries to manage the development of minerals and oil and gas, and to benefit from these resources to reduce poverty.
2. Promote, primarily through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Natural Resources Canada, the following widely-recognized international CSR performance guidelines with Canadian extractive companies operating abroad:
a. International Finance Corporation Performance Standards on Social & Environmental Sustainability for extractive projects with potential adverse social or environmental impacts;
b. Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights for projects involving private or public security forces; and,
c. Global Reporting Initiative for CSR reporting by the extractive sector to enhance transparency and encourage market-based rewards for good CSR performance.
Canada has applied to join the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights as a participating country.
3. Set up the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor to assist stakeholders in the resolution of CSR issues pertaining to the activities of Canadian extractive sector companies abroad.
4. Support the development of a CSR Centre of Excellence within an existing institution outside of government to encourage the Canadian international extractive sector to implement these voluntary performance guidelines by developing and disseminating high-quality CSR information, training and tools.
The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) has had its own initiative called Towards Sustainable Mining for several years. Having examined the federal commitment, MAC president Gordon Peeling said, “The government of Canada has done a good job in responding to some difficult issues, such as human rights and security … The strategy’s focus on capacity building … provides an essential building block in helping countries achieve their poverty reduction goals and development objectives through responsible development of their natural resources.
Nothing happens quickly in the federal bureaucracy, but when the Office of the Extractive Sector CSR Counsellor and the CSR Centre of Excellence are up and running, Canadian industry will have a powerful new ally in the development of international mining industries.
In an ideal world, the federal initiative will help junior and mid-tier miners to develop CSR programs as comprehensive as those created by
their larger, richer cousins. When all Canadian miners adhere to a transparent and beneficial set of rules, their projects can be welcomed all around the globe. An added bonus would be to remove many of the objections used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to disrupt development.