When Hevina Dashwood began looking at the issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the mining sector, she encountered a number of surprising research findings.
The associate professor of political science thought she would find a “top-down” process where international corporate social responsibility principles and practices would filter down slowly from the global level and eventually be adopted by individual mining companies.
“What I didn’t expect to see was mining companies acting at a political level globally. They were acting as if they were states because they were setting rules by engaging in governance at the global level for their industry,” she says.
“Furthermore, mining companies adopted sustainable development as a normative framework for their emerging CSR policies, which at first glance, would seem inconsistent with the mining of depleting resources.”
Dashwood’s recently released book, The Rise of Global Social Corporate Responsibility, examines how global norms influenced the mining industry to adopt - and in some cases, trailblaze - corporate social responsibility and sustainable development policies and practices.
These include preserving the environment, consulting with communities on access to land, supporting community development projects, respecting human rights, and other internationally recognized principles.
In her book, Dashwood draws on insight from international relations theory and develops a theoretical framework based in institutional analysis to explain corporate social responsibility adoption in the mining industry beginning in the mid-1990s.
Extensive interviews with key decision makers from three Canadian mining companies, Noranda, Placer Dome and Barrick Gold, provided insight into corporate social responsibility policies and programs.
“It’s theoretically interesting and unexpected that some mining companies would actually choose to be responsive to societal pressures and even take on, in some cases, a leadership role in promoting global standards for the industry,” she says.
Some leading mining companies became “early adopters” of corporate social responsibility, setting an example for their competitors. Some companies even worked with national governments, and national and global industry associations to set environmental and social standards that all companies in the industry would adhere to.
Dashwood attributes this proactive approach in part to what she calls a “critical juncture” that took place in the late 1990s. At the time, the mining industry was under heavy fire from advocacy groups and non-government organizations for practices that harmed environments, local workers and communities.
At the same time, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other international bodies were shaping treaties that limited mining companies’ access to land.
And, global financial institutions, such as the World Bank, were coming under increasing pressure to attach environmental conditions onto their lending, restricting access to finance for some companies.
Worried that their position would further be eroded at the then-upcoming 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the mining industry mobilized itself to take on its critics.
In 2001, the industry formed the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which adopted the normative framework of sustainable development. The ICMM’s role is to develop standards for the global mining industry and to identify existing global standards that would be applicable to the mining sector.
For example, it worked with the Global Reporting Initiative, a non-profit organization that promotes economic, environmental and social sustainability, to come up with reporting criteria relevant to the mining industry.
The ICMM also encourages its members to adopt ISO environmental standards, with the most relevant one for mining requiring external or independent certification.
Dashwood says much of a company’s willingness to embrace corporate social responsibility policies and practices boils down to the personal commitment of those at the top.
“The role of leadership was critical,” she says. “In some mining companies you had executives that were ‘norms entrepreneurs’; they sought to promote the norm of sustainable development within their industry.”
Dashwood says that, looking back over the past couple of decades, she thinks the mining industry’s adoption of corporate social responsibility policies and practices reflects a significant culture shift for the industry.
“You can really see the shift in thinking on the part of the mining industry,” she says. “Some people brush it off and say, ‘Ah, it’s just PR but it’s not just PR. In fact, you can trace over time where they started from, which was denial and obstruction, to a willingness to engage with their critics and adopt and implement CSR policies and practices.”
The Rise of Global Social Corporate Responsibility: Mining and the Spread of Global Norms, is published by Cambridge University Press.