Mt. Polley triggers Canadian soul-searching on how to regulate the mining industry

Dead in the water?

The Mount Polley catastrophic tailings spill of last summer in western Canada has led to a new round of news stories, discussion and debate in Canada about how to regulate their mining industry.

The Mount Polley spill was one of the worst mining spills in the history of Canadian mining and raises questions of whether the current ‘light touch’ regulatory regime really works. Search warrants for Imperial Metals were carried out last week following the report from an independent panel which found evidence of design flaws but said it could not conclude anything about management culpability.

Particularly damaging for advocates of self regulation, the Mining Association of Canada refuses to release details of the self-assessment the Imperial Metals gave itself before the spill, no doubt because it shows they gave themselves a clean bill of health. The report was effectively just about the paperwork and not whether the plans were actually being followed and not checked by independent parties.

The consequences of this investigation could be very wide ranging and affect mining worldwide with increased requirements for third-party verification and more stringent tailing management in coming years. Industry commentators in Canada are already working hard to argue that regulators should not overreact.

One take home from all of this: CSR in the extractive sector starts with effective environmental management. Without this, CSR is dead in the water.

Image from CBC.

CSR in a Time of Austerity

Going the other way

Given the current global downturn, and its knock on effect on global commodity prices, there was plenty of evidence of belt tightening in the companies I spoke to last year. Some CSR teams had seen their budgets and personell slashed by half while others had seen their purpose and function reassesed, often to take a more ‘helping the bottom line’ focus or, particulalrly in Perú, to try and shift CSR responsibilities (and thus spending) away from the company and back on to the state. So, it’s of interest that Prof. Wayne Dunn at McGill who launched a new blog on CSR in October has directly engaged with the issue in a report on ‘Twelve strategies for CSR in budget crunch times: 12 Strategies for Success’. I think this needs a jargon health warning though, Professor Dunn’s focus is for CSR professionals within companies so his report is full of the kind of corporate jargon that makes my eyes glaze over. Get past that, however, and there’s plenty to chew on.

A Modern Magna Carta?

Latin for ‘CSR’?

There was an excellent documentary on BBC Radio 4 last night about a ‘modern Magna Carta’. The opening question was, broadly, if 800 years ago the Magna Carta was written to curtail the excessive power of the king, where does power that needs to be curtailed lay today?” The unanimous answer being: large corporations. Cue lots of discussion about what and how would be the best ways to engage with and regulate large international corporations with all manner of interesting people. Well worth a listen if you’re in the UK and it should be available as a podcast as it’s Radio 4’s Documentary of the Week.