Sustainable CSR and Mining in South Africa

governance development ngos sustainability corporate social responsibilities
Tuesday, 25 June, 2013 - 15:18

Companies should invest in sustainable CSR programmes in order ensure that they contribute to addressing some of the socio-economic ills faced by vulnerable groups

We accept that not all corporate social responsibility (CSR) is undertaken voluntarily, and that companies are in some ways pressured by the need to comply with Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) legislation. The BEE legislation places an onus on companies to be circumspect in their internal and external operations so as to address the social and economic inequalities of their stakeholders. Companies are also encouraged to assist previously disadvantaged groups to take an active part in the South African economy. 
There are some among us who would argue that a big incentive for companies to assist previously disadvantaged stakeholders to take an active part in the economy is that they will therefore avoid a negative rating that could prevent them from operating in South Africa. With this in mind, for companies who believe in sustainability and in longevity, they should not view BEE as merely a means of attaining participation in the economy, they should see it as a means of legitimising their CSR initiatives which should in any event be centred on the premise of empowering vulnerable communities.
King III is to be commended for focusing on sustainability and risk. It asks companies to focus on risk and sustainability as they address their stakeholders.  The report itself focuses on corporate citizenship, ethical leadership, risk and compliance among other issues. 
With reference to social disparities and the need to empower disadvantaged communities the mining industry is arguably poised to address these social and economic disparities because it makes sound business sense. 
There is also the moral argument to be made that mining houses should take an active role to improve access to health care, education and seek to address other socio economic issues due to the impact their operations have on communities directly adjacent to their operations. This argument goes beyond addressing these concerns to then gain regulatory approvals and increase profits,  it will help mining houses to increase their access to more qualified employees (instead of importing management from abroad) it will also reduce work stoppages which we have seen in the recent past resulting in violent and deadly clashes. It goes without saying that mining houses that focus on addressing the impact of their operations on the community at large, need to also address the quality of their management and management processes.
Centuries into mining operations in South Africa, there is a strong current need for mining houses to play an active role in discussions with communities, employees, NGOs and the relevant local authorities to collectively decide on what the community needs and what funds are going to be committed to address these needs.  This alone will go along way in changing current negative perceptions that currently attach themselves to the mining industry.  Through an open and honest dialogue between these stakeholders, communities themselves will feel that they have been heard and understood.  They will also be assured that emphasis will be placed on the importance of the land to their own sustainability. 
As the legal framework is limited in addressing CSR in general and in the mining industry in particular, and also in light of what transpired in Marikana, there is an argument to be made for providing NGOs and entities such as the Human Rights Commission (HRC) with a greater platform to address Corporate Social Responsibility in the mining sector.  The HRC and other NGOs with a vested interest in this sector, can assist in the development and implementation of strategies that can form the basis for sound and credible CSR that goes beyond the odd annual donation to a ‘green event’ or bursary programme.
These entities should also be included in providing training workshops and advisory services that will support the mining sector in creating responsible CSR and business strategies.  Furthermore they can assist in providing training programmes aimed at providing necessary skills that will equip them to maintain ongoing employment in the mining sector.  It is trite to state that at the core of issues in the mining sector relates mainly to recruitment and housing and therefore it only makes sense that the focus on CSR initiatives should largely seek to address this.
The bottom line is that CSR needs to move from a voluntary imperative to being an express and not an implied legal obligation that makes it mandatory for all commercial entities to contribute to a stronger society and cleaner environment. 
The root cause of many societal problems for mining communities are deteriorating social conditions related to a lack of services, crime and ill health.    The other issues that still need to be urgently addressed by mining houses relate to housing and employment, issues which interestingly are largely ignored in annual reports and CSR reports.  Mining houses should be more proactive in addressing these two issues.
For mining houses engaged in CSR there is a need to close the gap between their CSR initiatives and ever growing community needs. They can do so by addressing their organisational structure. Once this is done societal problems around their mining operations will be reduced if not eradicated. CSR practitioners and departments can assist in advancing this move by having a greater influence on policy considerations where the mining house is seeking to address its housing practices, labour unrests and increased productivity.
With a move away from hostel dwelling to informal settlements around mines, mining houses need a more transparent and sustainable housing policy. This may require a more collaborative approach to address informal settlements and the needs uniquely linked to their existence. Some mining houses have implemented CSR initiatives that are more cognisant of these issues. They are commended for this but more needs to be done to keep up with the growing definition of CSR to be more inclusive of business operations and objectives, and also move mining CSR beyond merely meeting the prerequisites for gaining access to more points on the BEE scorecard.
- Janine Mosetlhi is Managing Director of Dara Consulting (Pty) Ltd.

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