Canadian Mining Journal


To meet society’s expectations, we need a new approach to mining

Industry must meet society’s expectations

Mining activities can bring both negative and positive change to local communities. We, as a society, generally expect that the negative impacts will be managed, and the benefits distributed fairly. Local communities and society at large are more supportive of mining activities when they see sustained positive outcomes – when positive change outweighs the negative impacts.

Over the past several decades we have worked hard to find a positive balance between the benefits and negative impacts associated with mining. People and organizations around the world are involved in improving government and company performance, setting new regulations and standards, providing guidance and training to communities and companies, and developing new legal frameworks. These efforts have led to significant milestones such as the Voluntary Principles on Business and Human Rights, regulations around extractive revenue transparency, and an increased commitment to free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) by industry groups. Proven approaches to share benefits and to mitigate negative impacts have been developed, such as skills development, local employment, participatory water monitoring, and community health and safety programs. We have also developed better mechanisms for community participation and forums for dialogue. And more and more regularly there is increased collaboration between industry, civil society and governments at the national and local levels.

While these improvements are significant, mining activities are not meeting society’s expectations. This is highlighted by the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) 2018 global survey ( expectations/pes) on their new performance expectations for company members. Survey participants that identified themselves as non-profits or NGOs on average ranked the performance expectations as “falling below my expectation of what a responsible mining company should be doing.” The gap between our expectations and performance is also illustrated in the 2018 index completed by the Responsible Mining Foundation ( The index results “indicate that it is still hard to find evidence of systematic, effective action at any one company on the range of topics that society can reasonably expect companies to address.”

These reports reflect the high bar that society has set, which has real implications for the mining industry. Achieving a ‘licence to operate’ continues to be a top ten risk facing mining companies across the world. In recent years, community members from several countries have launched lawsuits in Canadian courts regarding alleged human rights abuses by Canadian mining companies. There is increased pressure for national governments to ‘even the playing field’ and funnel more tax revenues from mining activities to local communities. In some jurisdictions this has contributed to drastic changes in tax regimes, a change which has completely altered the economics of many mining operations.

Fundamentally, our approach to mining development does not meet social expectations. In order to meet those expectations, we need to collectively support a new approach to mining development, one that leads to sustained positive outcomes for local communities. For that to happen, we need all stakeholder groups to:

  1. Treat communities as legitimate, equal partners in extractive development. Communities are now being recognized as legitimate stakeholders in extractive development. Yet treating communities as legitimate, equal partners is a different story. That requires involving and enabling communities to be partners in decision-making from the beginning and taking the time to build strong, non-transactional relationships between communities, companies, and governments.
  2. Build strong partnerships between communities, companies, and governments. Communities, companies, and governments are the three legs of the extractive development tripod. Achieving sustained positive outcomes for local communities requires the partnership of all three stakeholders. Partnership means being honest, working together to make decisions, addressing power imbalances, and holding each other accountable. Industry must follow through with action and not simply use words like partnership as a virtue signalling.
  3. Come together to create a clear vision and define outcomes. A vision for extractive development creates a road map for stakeholders to work together in partnership. It starts the conversation about how extractive development can leave communities better off and identifies how extractive development can fit into broader economic priorities and development plans. A vision enables stakeholders to guide the changes that extractive development will inevitably bring in a way that meets their objectives.
  4. Make decisions in a systematic and transparent manner. Extractive development systems that affect social outcomes, such as permitting processes, project design, consultation, and decision-making, are usually complex and are often unclear or not transparent. Stakeholders, especially industry, need to communicate how their systems work and they need to find creative ways to connect.
  5. Manage tensions between worldviews. Extractive development is a catalyst that brings individuals and groups with divergent worldviews together – which can create points of tension. Managing those points of tension requires stakeholders to recognize where they might have a different worldview from that of others and to find ways to meet in the middle and achieve common goals in creative ways. Typically, this means industry needs to recognize where its way of doing things or seeing the world may dominate the process and hijack the potential for true partnership.

A new approach to mining development requires a systemic step change and can only be achieved if communities, extractive companies, governments, civil society groups, and investors are involved. Mining professionals may not think that they play a role – that this work belongs to the Community Relations or Social Performance team. But a new approach requires a paradigm shift, one that geologists, supply chain professionals, evaluations experts, mining engineers, etc. need to be a part of.

Adapting the approach to extractive development is undoubtedly an enormous task. Incremental change by individuals and organizations must be the first step. Small changes in practice, mindset, or approach can have a very meaningful impact. How do your daily activities relate to the new approach outlined above? How can you think differently about the approach you take?

CAROLYN BURNS is director of operations at NetPositive, a non-profit that works with diverse stakeholders to help local communities see sustained positive outcomes from mining. 

JANE CHURCH is a co-founder and director of collaboration with NetPositive.

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