Listen, Learn and Engage

By John Miller, Editor

The need for the mining industry to deliver a socially workable environment has never been as important as it is today.

This is not just the case where mining is undertaken in fragile environments or near population centres – it is just as important in developing countries or traditional mining provinces.

In the 'bad old days' there were far too many mining companies who rode roughshod over the environment, upsetting the locals directly and others further afield indirectly.

This still occurs today, although these mining 'cowboys' are few and far between.

The 'bad old days' and today's 'cowboys' have created a cloud for the entire mining industry, a cloud that can only be dispersed through 110% attention to detail in environmental and social responsibility matters.

These thoughts were voiced again during the three day Paydirt 2010 Africa Downunder Conference, in Perth last week when Australia's operators in Africa's mining sector were encouraged to cement a more inclusive approach in their dealings with their African partners to help deliver an increasingly socially workable environment.

The same message applies to those who operate in the Asia Pacific's mining sector and elsewhere around the world.

Coffey Environments principal Danielle Martin told conference delegates that the first rule now being accepted in inter-country resources alliances is 'Listen, Learn and Engage'.

She said the cost of not doing so could range from damage to facilities, mothballing of projects, significant financial impost, loss of future project opportunity, permitting delays and in worst case scenarios, mine closure, violence and even civil war as was the case at Bougainville in 1988.

"Resource extraction is becoming increasingly complex and is operating in increasingly more challenging physical, social and political environments.

"Environmental, social and safety performance is also coming under increased public scrutiny backed by more sophisticated communication, ensuring that the stakes have become much higher for projects that fail to secure adequate community and partner support.

"Pointedly, the key to sustainable resource development is meaningful engagement that allows winning positions on both sides.

"Australia's miners and explorers looking to expand in Africa will do well now to recognize that it is in the 'financial interest' of a project to ensure local communities are actively invested in the success of an exploration venture or mine," Danielle Martin stated. The same applies elsewhere.

Mine developers and host communities need to align their goals for mutual benefit, including around key issues of local employment, training, infrastructure development and planning, and financial assistance.

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