When is CSR not worth the effort?
Later in this issue you’ll see and hopefully read a new column by Michael Torrance, a lawyer with Norton Rose Fulbright of Toronto, who specializes in Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR as we all call it.
In his inaugural column, Michael talks about the Government of Canada’s new strategy for the “Extractive Sector,” (that’s us, the mining industry…. “Extractors”) and the consequences mining companies will face if they don’t follow the rules as set out in the government’s new CSR Best Practice Strategy.
Without taking away from Michael’s column, I won’t go into detail about the new Strategy or how the government plans to slap the wrists of those who don’t follow the rules, but I would like to comment on CSR in general and perhaps why some companies have found it frustrating to spend money on CSR and why they’re reluctant to participate.
As we all know, mining takes a lot of promotion and salesmanship when it comes to convincing communities and their inhabitants to accept that the landscape in their backyards is going to change drastically once a mining company moves in.
In fact, it’s safe to say that in most cases, it will be scarred for life because no matter how you look at it, the definition of extract (in part) is to: “Take out by force” and as “Extractors,” that’s what miners do.
They take minerals out of the ground by forcing their way into the earth and as a result, the makeup of the landscape gets altered thanks to the huge machines and crews of miners that invade the site where the ore is buried.
It’s the nature of the business and try as hard as many mining companies do, there’s no getting around the fact that mining is a powerful industry that impacts communities where, and whenever it is permitted to set up shop.
And, as far as CSR is concerned and why I think some mining companies are reluctant to follow the government’s best practice strategies, is based on the Fed’s previous failure to provide guidance after it created an office called: “The Government of Canada’s Extractive Sector CSR Counsel,” complete with a CSR Counsellor as a Special Advisor to the Minister of International Trade.
At first this all sounded well and good because it looked like the mining industry finally had someone in Ottawa to talk with when it came to getting guidance with matters involving Canadian miners working abroad and what they should know about foreign policies and procedures when going after work in foreign countries.
But, like I just mentioned about this CSR office, it’s no wonder it failed because the CSR Counsellor’s job description also contained the words: “The Counsellor has no policy-making role and does not represent Government of Canada policy positions.”
With those restrictions, it’s no wonder the mining industry didn’t bother using the government’s CSR office and why it’s now closed after being in operation for about four years.
Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic John McKay said recently the CSR office was created to mediate conflicts but after opening six cases in four years and not resolving any, it was: “Completely and utterly ineffective and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
That being said, it gets me back to my earlier point about many mining companies finding it frustrating to spend money on CSR.
As we all know, many communities where mining companies start drilling are in remote areas, particularly in foreign countries where the there’s little or no infrastructure and the local inhabitants have limited personal resources.
In fact, many of these people need almost everything and they often look upon mining companies as ‘saviours’ who bring wealth and a better way of living because they’re often obligated to provide jobs, build houses, schools, and even hospitals as part of a right to mine their land.
It’s a huge expense but as I mentioned earlier, it’s a frustrating one too because of the cost of seeing money being spent on training and facilities for locals only to see them abused or not understood.
A case in point I heard recently involved a mining company coming in and supplying the local community with seeds for planting and a herd of goats but when the seeds were eaten, not planted, and the goats sold, not raised, the company was approached for more.
I know this is an extreme, but you gotta wonder … is CSR worth the effort?