Engaging with communities is critically important for mining companies, but can be complex and challenging.
People are multi-faceted, and understanding their needs, wants and concerns is difficult. This is why the quality of community relations can make or break a project. Obtaining and maintaining community support, or a company’s social licence to operate, is a key factorrm viability of any operation.
Poor community relations, in contrast, can promote distrust and feelings of injustice, particularly when exacerbated by mining activities that are insensitive to local concerns. This may result in resistance to ongoing or future operations or conflict.
Unlike many other industries that can freely choose where to operate, mining is only possible in areas of high mineralisation, which may already be inhabited or have communities nearby. ICMM expects mining and metals companies to not only engage such communities in conversation and decision-making but to contribute to long-term community development.
Community development is the process of increasing the strength and effectiveness of communities, for the betterment people’s quality of life and their participation in the decision-making that will achieve greater long-term control over their lives. It goes beyond mitigating social impacts and focuses on strengthening community viability. It essentially works towards creating local benefits for people that beyond the lifetime of the mining operation.
Often, the most sustainable and beneficial legacies of community development programmes are those that support the upskilling or capacity-building of local people through training, employment and education. Benefits that convert mining assets, namely non-renewable natural resource capital, into other local assets, namely sustainable social, economic and environmental capital.
For mining companies and the communities in which they operate, this process is a journey not a destination. There will always be more that can be done, and community relations require constant attention and resource investment. But some best practice is nonetheless identifiable. ICMM has produced a range of guidance on community development, stakeholder engagement and strengthening community relations. And we have a continued focus on helping to strengthen the community relations capacity of member companies building upon our guidance documents and toolkits.