Dec '10/Jan '11

Experts debate solutions surrounding CSR initiatives

CSR in Africa seminar looks for new approaches

By Virginia Heffernan

CSR seminar

Industry and government attendees at CSR seminar (from left to right): Signi Schneider and Lindsey MacRae, Export Development Canada; Joe Spytek, ITC Global; and Judith St. George, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade | Photo courtesy of MineAfrica Inc.

As a private members bill designed to make Canadian mining companies more accountable on human rights and environmental practices headed for defeat in the House of Commons on October 27, corporate social responsibility (CSR) experts gathered in Toronto to discuss alternative solutions during the fourth annual conference on Risk Mitigation and CSR in Africa and Emerging Markets.

Organized by the Canada-South Africa Chamber of Business and MineAfrica, the day-long seminar targeted the extractive industries, particularly Canadian companies that invested more than $23 billion in the African mining sector in 2009. More than 80 participants (including 18 speakers) — compared to 50 attendees at the first conference held in 2007 — took part in the “uncomfortable conversations” that ensued.

Although the proposed keynote speaker, Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan, was called away to attend the third reading of Bill C-300 — later defeated by a vote of 140 to 134 — the seminar drew on the wide range of legal, financial, government, industry and NGO speakers’ perspectives to map out a multi-stakeholder approach to CSR. “We hope this holistic approach will come to be identified as the Canadian way,” said Donald Bobiash, director general of the African Bureau of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as he addressed the audience in lieu of Van Loan.

Indeed, collaboration is the only way to tackle the complex issues surrounding CSR, said Michael Shtender-Auerbach, vice-president of social risk consulting for UK-based Control Risks. He compared the encouraging global momentum on human rights being spearheaded by John Ruggie, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General on business and human rights, to the “flawed” approach to human rights put forward by Bill C-300.

“Following the debate around Bill C-300 has been frustrating,” Shtender-Auerbach said, scolding the mining sector for its antagonistic attitude towards the Bill. “We need NGOs, governments and industry to get together, not hand out pamphlets,” he added, referring to the hundreds of anti-C-300 buttons and flyers distributed at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual convention in March 2010.

From an industry perspective, one of the complaints about current CSR guidelines is that they are difficult for junior mining companies to apply because they lack the knowledge, experience and access to concrete examples of successful CSR programs.

“There is no way you can google your way through the CSR landscape,” concurred Jean Vavrek, CIM executive director and a driving force behind the creation of the Centre for Excellence in CSR, one of the four pillars of the Canadian government’s CSR action plan. “Exploration companies have no way of knowing who has done what or whom to talk to,” he said. To break down this barrier, the new centre ( is setting itself up as a web-based hub of knowledge on CSR practices and approaches in the extractive sector.

Another pillar of the federal action plan was to establish an office for an extractive sector CSR Counsellor. In October 2009, Marketa Evans, former executive director of the Munk Centre for International Studies, was given this CSR mandate. Her office recently launched a voluntary review process to handle dispute resolution for extractive companies working abroad.

Although there are already more than 300 such mechanisms worldwide, Evans and her team wanted to create a non-judicial process to foster a more open dialogue without the need for lawyers. “The more quasi-judicial the process, the higher the standard of evidence and the higher the barriers,” Evans told the seminar audience. Her office aims to act as broker between individuals or communities and mining companies that are at loggerheads.

Post a comment


PDF Version