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No lack of enthusiasm for ESG principles

Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards have recently become top of mind for the mining community, both internationally and in South Africa. 

AUTHORS:
Alexandra Lugagne and Anita Kooij – Mandela Mining Precinct

Statements made recently by various global investment giants highlight the importance for companies to perform well in ESG if they hope to attract investment, and the 2021 African Mining Indaba opened with panel discussions on ESG, rather than having these sessions as an afterthought towards the end of the event. 

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However, in terms of effective Private-Public collaboration and coordinated efforts towards improved local Economic Development and overall quality of life in South African mining communities, we still have a long way to go. This chasm, however, is not from a lack of willingness. 

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Between the regulatory imperatives, the value of industrial peace, good relations with local stakeholders, and a leadership push toward a positive contribution, mining companies are invested in doing better for local communities and broader society.

Throughout our experience of interacting with these companies and their social performance experts, their commitment to improving these communities is evident through their financial commitments to the cause. Often, they contribute to projects beyond the Social and Labour Plan regulations, and due to the red tape, many projects get funded out of the voluntary Corporate Social Investment funds and other Trusts established to go above and beyond the legal investment requirements.

While highlighting the increase in community focus, I am not implying that the South African mining industry is without its dark past.  There are still lasting, deep wounds from the Apartheid-driven mining industry which are still scarring the South African landscape.

There are also recent cases of human rights violations in mining communities that have taken place in South Africa, the broader continent, and globally. Still, most prominent industry players are trying to lead by example and walk the walk to a better future.

Despite the commitment, what is still missing is a systematic and coordinated approach to monitor and evaluate the efforts of the industry, developing a solid evidence-based framework to collect and use learnings to improve future interventions. Currently, mining companies measure their impact by physical deliverables such as infrastructure built in these communities.

However, building or refurbishing schools, for example, only addresses one of the factors that contribute to local economic development and overall community well-being and hence leaves a gap in the path to creating meaningful change. To someone coming from a Public Health academic background, this gap surprised me immensely, as we obsess over evidence to assess the impact we have on the people.

In our latest initiative in the space of social performance within the mining industry, we hope to cross-pollinate and support the embedding of evidence-based approaches from project identification and design through to conclusion and follow-up. In essence, we want to build a positive feedback loop.

We are aware that it is a complex environment with many stakeholders and competing priorities and needs, but this complexity only reinforces the need for a robust and sustainable monitoring framework which we hope will help clarify the impact process.

The focus will be on a unified vision and coordinated methodology through Theory of Change development, collection and analysis of data, and the dissemination of results.

To make significant progress toward meaningful impact, mining companies must embed the right methodologies and administrative processes to enable this. If not, we will end up with another lovely set of principles, frameworks, and systems that get shelved and gather dust.

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