This article, “Social Concerns are Crunched Off the Agenda”, has been sitting on tab in my browser for months, bad blogger that I have been.
I don’t have a lot to say this. But from the opening line, the author suggests that our financial crisis is creating huge problems for “corporate social responsibility”. The problem is that, like Economist’s of the past, the author assumes CSR is some voluntary nicety that companies partake in when business is going well. This goes against efforts, including my own humble ones, to draw attention to the obligatory elements of this what I prefer to call “corporate responsibility”. This is very much at the core of the financial crisis and I would say that the fact that many CSR professionals haven’t discussed pay and incentive issues or discussions on how to treat customers (examples from the article) highlights the problems of CSR rhetoric more than proof that social concerns are going away.
The debate for me isn’t electricity or no electricity for the Gilgel Gibe III Dam in Ethiopia, recently highlighted on the BBC’s Crossing Continents. It is about electricity with appropriate study of the impacts or electricity that makes the same mistakes as similar projects. The key question is: What’s appropriate? Might it be slower? Yes. More costly? In the short-run, for sure; but in the long-run, how can anyone possibly know?
Are these appropriate studies? I have no idea at first glance, but it serves as a very current course/case study. Here’s an advocacy side from International Rivers. I was really curious to see that Facebook also has a flurry of activity on this topic.
And this allows us to consider public consultation, but the radio show clearly highlights that a lot of people don’t feel like they have been heard.
This is a complex story, but very worth exploring. Unfortunately, the key actor, the Italian contractor, isn’t interviewed on the radio program. The report mentions that the World Bank isn’t funding this, but one might ask where the money is coming from.
Anyone who has additional information? Please share!
So my heading is a bit over dramatic. This is an interesting development. Being interested in sustainable development, I don’t think it is important to worry about the nationality of the investment. But I do worry about how responsible it is.
I was please to read this article today, “As Chinese Investment in Africa Drops, Hope Sinks” (also a bit over dramatic). While I don’t find lost hope something to celebrate, the article pleases me since it shows that natural resource extraction won’t be simply a race to the bottom when it comes to environmental and social development. There are glimmers that exploitation, regardless of nationality, will be rejected by Guinea.
Hamidou Condé works bare-chested under the relentless sun, digging a hole for the foundation of a new hospital being built by a Chinese company, yet another symbol of Chinese-Guinean friendship.
Mr. Condé, 35, who has two wives and four children, said that he had been digging in the hard rock with a shovel, pick and ax for two months, but that he had yet to receive any pay from his Chinese taskmasters.
“We work like slaves,” Mr. Condé said. “And like slaves we are not paid. The Chinese bring nothing good to Guinea.”
I would venture to say many African countries don’t “still need the the West’s help after all”, they need responsible investment. For Mr. Condé’s sake, I hope the drop in commodity prices is a good reminder that process matters, especially in a downturn when investors are tightening their belts.
Very pleased to receive a link to this story on the Mine Web site regarding Newmont’s review of its community relations policy and practice. One part that most interested me:
Community relations cannot be an isolated function. “All employees must regard the implementation of the company’s community relations priorities as an essential part of their jobs. …Finally, there must be strategic planning at both the corporate and the mine-site levels.”
Great to see a company sharing less-than-best practice with the aim, hopefully, of making the industry better.
Here’s the Newmont press release.
P.S. – Here’s the full report.
The World Resources Institute has recently published a report called “Breaking Ground: Engaging Communities in Extractive and Infrastructure Projects”. The report is a well-referenced follow on from a previous report, “Development Without Conflict: The Business Case for Community Consent”, and is the first good practice document I have seen that makes a note of the fact that there is an economic crisis upon us. (Also good to see WRI using video – see video of author, Kirk Herbertson, giving the executive summary himself.) The report, importantly, acknowledges a crucial, if somewhat obvious point: “Despite the abundance of existing reports and manuals that provide guidance on community engagement, much of the publicly available information on how project proponents engage communities reveals great difficulty in applying guidance effectively”.
Alas, the devil is in the details.
The report is useful on many levels and, even if I can’t agree with all its points or even the full framework, I think it is a very good starting point for getting into devilish details.
As an element of praise, I think the report clearly highlights the importance of preparing communities before engaging, the first principle of the framework. This is a crucial step that often gets overlooked and often not from malice, but just from the difficulty of trying to see a project from different points of view. The fourth principle on including traditionally excluded stakeholders also speaks to a key theme.
But I thought the report focused a bit too much on indigenous communities, which is in no way saying that issues related to indigenous peoples are not a crucial topic in extractive industry projects. I simply kept thinking there was a danger of people thinking these issues are only related to indigenous peoples in less developed countries when in fact they are just as important to non-indigenous communities in high income countries. I also don’t think the term Free, Prior and Informed Consent is the best way to make the business case. Language and translation plays such a key role in extractive projects. The word “consent” makes it seem like everyone has to agree, even if the report states this isn’t the case. I think stakeholders still interpret it this way.
I would welcome other opinions on the document (or even disagreements with mine, which are much more interesting).
While I guess it can’t hurt to have an additional paper drawing attention to the role of natural resource managment in peacebuilding, I was somewhat disappointed with the lack of emphasis on the private sector in the UN Environmental Programme’s new report, ” From Conflict to Peacebuilding: The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment”. Contrary to the Forward section, I don’t think it is contorversial that natural resources and conflict are often linked. Many organizations, including the UN, have been making the case for many years. I hope the next research paper on the topic will address the sixth bullet of recommendation No. 5: “More systematic efforts are needed by the UN and national governments to engage the private sector in the development of policies on natural resources and the environment”.
It was the only reference to business or the private sector in the paper.
I still think this type of idea is needed more often.
Also, Paul Collier offered more good ideas in a paper for the EITI in October: “Implications of Changed International Conditions for EITI”.
I really enjoyed The New Yorker profile of Van Jones, “Greening the Ghetto”. Jones has written the Green Collar Economy and is the founder of an organization called Green for All. The subtitle of piece in The New Yorker was a question: Can a remedy serve for both global warming and poverty? Jones seems to think the answer is absolutely, yes, though at times he admits his push to get green economy thinkers to add the topic of urban poverty to the equation has been new territory that he didn’t understand along the way.
There is another answer to the question at the end of the article from a professor of business and government at Harvard. He gives an analogy:
Let’s say I want to have a dinner party. It’s important that I cook dinner, and I’d also like to take a shower before the guests arrive. You might think, Well, it would be really efficient for me to cook dinner in the shower. But it turns out that if I try that I’m not going to get very clean and it’s not going to be a very good dinner. And that is an illustration of the fact that it is not always best to try to address two challenges with what in the policy world we call a single-policy instrument.
Jones has his own answer, but a better answer to that was in the letters a few issues later:
In Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece on Van Jones and his attempt to address both poverty and the environmental crisis, the Harvard professor Robert Stavins suggests that it might not be effective to address climate and poverty together (“Greening the Ghetto,” January 12th). If climate were purely a technical issue—an efficiency challenge—he might be right. But climate disruption is at least as much about equity as efficiency. The prosperity that some of us enjoy is powered primarily by fossil fuels. If we are to deliver real climate solutions, we must build a new prosperity powered by efficient use of clean energy. This new prosperity must be “sustainable” not only in the sense that it can last but also in the sense that it works for a lot more people than our current (faltering) prosperity does. This is both a moral imperative and a practical political one. The rich cannot tell the poor, “Sorry, the atmosphere is already full of the emissions that created our prosperity, so there’s no room for yours.” If reducing emissions amounts to hoarding wealth, the coal and oil lobbies will successfully resist effective climate policy by appealing to the economic interests of the poor and the middle class. In order to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, our economic vision must include more broadly shared prosperity.
K. C. Golden
Policy Director, Climate Solutions
At a time when it is hard to get your head around the environmental complexity, I appreciate the way a person like Jones reminds us that we can’t solve a problem like the environmental in isolation.
Via ICMM’s useful news feed, I got news that the Aspen Institute’s Centre for Business Educaiton held a conference for MBA faculty that resulted in a course syllabus on “Five Issues with Broad Implications” for the mining and metals industry. Those five issues happen to be…
- Sustainability and Core Operations
- Global Portability of Governance and Agreements
- Shareholder Activism and Other Levers of Change
- Taking a Role in Pressing Social Issues: HIV/AIDS
- Managing Accidents, Crises and Risks
Each issue as some good references with links, though most are articles that require purchase.