The Bench Marks Centre in South Africa provides mining companies with research-based advice on sustainability issues. Centre staff share lessons learned.
High-impact research on social responsibility in mining companies is the strong suit of the Bench Marks Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University in South Africa. Centre Director Freek Cronjé discusses the critical importance and impact of the Centre’s research.
On August 16, 2012, South Africa (SA) experienced a tragic massacre. Forty-four workers at the platinum mining giant, Lonmin, were killed and seventy-eight injured, when police opened fire on a crowd of strikers.
The sad irony? Just two days before the shootings a report was released by the Bench Marks Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, in partnership with the Bench Marks Foundation, describing the failure of mining companies, including Lonmin, to meet CSR standards.
Although the research couldn’t prevent this social unrest from boiling over, the incident has made social responsibility impossible to ignore in South Africa. The Centre has now become a leading resource on the topic and is working with companies and government to prevent tragedies like this from occurring again.
About the Research
In 2011, the Centre began to research CSR practices of platinum mines in the Bojanala District of SA’s North West Province. The Centre worked in collaboration with Mudjadii Trading Ltd. (an independent consultancy) and the Bench Marks Foundation. The research aimed to compare current CSR performance to findings from a similar study conducted in 2007.
The team employed both quantitative and qualitative methods. Variables measured included:
Economic variables: employee wages and royalties
Social variables: migrant labour, prevalence of subcontracting, disease rates, housing and infrastructure availability
Environmental issues: air and water pollution and existence of mine rehabilitation and closure plans
Researchers derived qualitative findings using Participatory Action Research(PAR). This approach allowed the team to consider human feelings and the worldview of research subjects. Furthermore, the respondents were co-conductors of the research through exercises including mapping, taking of photos and storytelling. These personal stories enriched the final scientific report by giving personal meaning to the data.
CSR Failures are a Complex Problem
Research findings showed that CSR practices had changed little since 2007. All companies still failed to meet the standards recommended by the Principles for Global Corporate Responsibility: Bench Marks for Measuring Business Performance. This document, created by the Bench Marks Foundation, outlines over 100 principles of responsible corporate behaviour.
The reasons for this failure to improve are complicated, but include:
Major gaps between policy creation and implementation at both the government and corporate levels.
Poorly defined accountability for key social services, such as infrastructure.
Labour unions and local communities not taking ownership for solving local problems.
Putting Research into Practice
While this research wasn’t able to prevent the 2012 massacre, South African companies and government now recognize the Centre as a respected authority on responsible business.
“Companies know that we are not telling fairytales,” says Freek. “They are listening. Numerous mining companies have approached the Centre to consult on stakeholder engagement, community development, social license to operate and more.”
As a result, the Centre has been able to create the following changes in CSR practice:
Improvements in CSR planning.
Increased company engagement with key stakeholders, especially local communities.
Improvements to basic infrastructure in local communities.
Greater corporate awareness of legistlation on issues including environmental impact assessment and mine closure plans
And it’s not just companies that are listening. The Centre was invited to present their report and recommendations to South Africa’s Parliamentary Committee on Mineral Resources. The Centre is also appointed as a key expert and witness for the Farlam Commission, a government inquiry into the causes of the massacre.
Advice for Putting Research Findings into Practice
Freek Cronjé offers advice for researchers looking to advance corporate social responsibility by implementing research findings.
Get deep corporate buy-in.
Companies will only be receptive to your work if they trust you and believe in your motives. To build this buy-in, use a carrot not a stick. Ensure companies understand that you’re not there to criticize, but to help them become better corporate citizens.
Social responsibility is not limited to companies.
Socially responsible behaviour is important for all community stakeholders, not just companies. To solve the complex social problems other important players must be included, such as:
Farmers whose activities change the local environment.
Government bodies charged with enforcing regulation.
Labour unions tempted to use power for their own gain.
Citizens who feel disempowered in their community-building role.
Shareholders seeking to maximize profit.
Find common ground.
To advance social responsibility, researchers must unite many stakeholders with diverse or competing interests. Researchers can manage the diversity by finding common ground. Topics that unite people include social license to operate and the business case for CSR, which lead to both financial gains for the company and social and environmental improvements.