Sept/Oct 2009

Fostering responsibility

CIM collaborates with the Government of Canada to develop the Centre of Excellence on Corporate Social Responsibility

By H. Ednie

Operating scores of projects across the globe, Canada’s mining companies are a force to be reckoned with in the international arena. In recent years, these companies have come to be recognized not only for their expertise in mining, but also as benchmark-setters in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Acknowledging the Canadian mining industry’s global reach and the exemplary nature of its CSR efforts, the Government of Canada recently sought CIM’s expertise in the creation and operation an online Centre of Excellence on Corporate Social Responsibility.

This past summer, work got underway to create the web-based centre. Two stakeholders meetings held in Ottawa and Vancouver brought together representatives from the industry, civil society organizations and the government. The message was clear — people see the need for such a centre to promote best practices, facilitate knowledge sharing and foster greater environmental and social responsibility.

“Our mission of knowledge sharing and networking, grounded in the intention to see better practices developed and applied, makes this initiative something that is very much aligned with our core purpose,” says Jean Vavrek, CIM executive director. “CIM has achieved much in terms of researching, developing and sharing best practices in many areas of the industry. That is what we bring to CSR. We
can build on existing networks, relationships, systems and activities in an affordable way, even with little funding up front. Our members and our industry want to see CSR woven into how we do things day-to-day.”

Andrea Baldwin, the director of advisory services for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), has been engaged with CIM from the onset in its efforts to create the vision of the centre. She recently moderated the stakeholder meeting in Ottawa that was attended by over 70 people. Baldwin believes that the Centre of Excellence can “raise the game” in terms of CSR-related practices across industries and among stakeholders.

“There is growing recognition among companies that they are being held responsible for their behaviour, both environmentally and socially,” Baldwin says. “The stakeholders — investors, customers, communities — are demanding responsible practices. The Centre of Excellence will make it easier for companies to be responsible by sharing tools and best practices and by enabling access to experts in the field. This opportunity for collaboration will be especially advantageous for smaller companies.”

CBSR is a mission-based organization focused on CSR in Canada and abroad. Baldwin says that the centre will fit with their mission and respond to their members’ demands. “It’s a logical extension of our mission,” she explains. “We want to be collaborative — to have one single ‘go to’ source for information.”

The Centre of Excellence is one of the four pillars of the government’s “Building the Canadian Advantage” strategy on CSR announced last March. CIM is working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) to formulate the centre’s vision and ensure the proper engagement of all stakeholders.

“Canadian companies are often instrumental in bettering the lives of people in the communities in which they operate,” says Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. “We have created this centre to help provide the tools, guidance and advice they need to meet and exceed their social and environmental responsibilities abroad.”

Vavrek commented that CIM’s very nature positions it as a natural leader in the development of the centre. As a volunteer-based, not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder organization, CIM thrives on grassroots connections throughout communities across Canada. “This allows CIM to develop the centre in an inclusive way, which is a critical aspect of the concept,” Vavrek adds. “It is the sort of thing CIM was created for and in which we have proven ourselves in past.”

The creation of the centre has only just begun. Over the next year, it is expected to develop rapidly. Throughout the summer, the focus was on identifying which key organizations should be involved, defining roles and identifying avenues for contribution. Because CSR is itself a broad-sweeping term, ensuring that the centre remains sharply focused is quite a challenge. Efforts have therefore been made to assemble the right leadership team to help identify a portfolio of short-term priorities and longer term challenges.

Vavrek’s list of next steps in the creation of the centre includes identifying alternative sources of funding to support new and expanding initiatives, ensuring the participation of the oil and gas sector, and identifying geographical areas to focus on where immediate value can be had.

Baldwin adds that during the first stage of the centre’s development, the focus will be on transitioning from the theoretical to the practical, ensuring practical tools are provided to be applied in the field. “The centre will bring together case studies, best practices, tools and access to experts,” she explains. “It’s an opportunity to pull together information and be a place where material will be developed to fill information gaps, to be identified by the multi-stakeholder group.”

The Centre of Excellence is to grow into a practical tool to help the advancement of Canadian best practices and will help maintain Canada’s position as a global leader. “It is non-competitive,” adds Baldwin. “It provides the opportunity for collaboration.” You too can contribute to the process. Please visit the website and bookmark the page. Remember that your feedback and contributions are always welcome. They will be needed to shape the Centre of Excellence on Corporate Social Responsibility.

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