Mining industry says mining is good for development

Taking a leaf from the playbook of ‘Dogs Pro Walking’ and ‘Turkeys Against Christmas’, the ICMM has today launched the 3rd edition of its Role of Mining in National Economies report which highlights how “mining can be a major driver of sustainable development.”icmm-romine-cover
To be honest, this may well be a very good report, and I am sympathetic to the notion that mining has an important role to play in a countries development … if managed correctly. I’ve not looked at this report long enough to make a judgment as to its true strengths and weaknesses. What it does remind me of, however, is how I saw their report on the role of mining in Zambia ridiculed at a conference about mining while I was in Zambia in 2014. At that conference a respected Zambian academic told the audience that the best use of the report was as toilet paper. The comment was met with laughter, rueful nodding and zero contradiction. I know people at Oxford Policy Management who were involved in writing the report and am sure they worked hard and well. The simple fact of the origin of the report precluded it ever being taken seriously in Zambia.

So here’s my question, who is swayed by a report from the mining industry about how great the mining industry is? I would really love to know.

I’m presenting tomorrow at the #DSA2016 in Oxford

I’ll be presenting a paper on How does corporate social responsibility affect national politics? The case of mining in Ghana, Peru and Zambia at the annual Development Studies Association Conference in Oxford tomorrow. The abstract reads thusly:

This paper examines the national politics of mining and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Zambia, Ghana and Peru. The paper draws on research conducted as part of 3-year British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship looking at the role of international standards in mining company behaviour in developing countries. It begins by outlining political settlements theory, focussing on elite bargaining and the drivers of political stability. The paper then uses this conceptual framework to explore the ways in which CSR and the behaviour of mining companies affect national politics and natural resource governance in Ghana, Peru, and Zambia. Geographical and historical specificity are argued to be central to understanding the ways in which CSR affects political settlements in these countries, in particular the role of memory and the timing of resource booms. These are explored in each case study country to show the different meanings and functions CSR takes on in different regulatory contexts before examining how mining companies use CSR to attempt to minimise regulation and taxation burden, effectively aiming to produce enclave forms of extraction. Here, CSR is argued to be a useful window into the political activities of firms and an important part of how they engage in the national-level politics of host countries.

I’m in session P19 in 4-5.30pm Room 7 (Examination Schools). See you there!

I have a book contract!

I have, today, signed a contract for a book with Oxford University Press. This is great news. This book is provisionally entitled Risk and responsibility: The politics of mining, corporate social responsibility and development. Though, this may well change as one of the bits of feedback from the reviewers was that they didn’t like the title. (Perhaps I should steal less from Austen for the title. Dickens instead perhaps?).

Risk and responsibility draft cover

Almost certainly what the book won’t look like


Here is a brief synopsis from the proposal:

Mining is at a pivotal moment. The recent commodities supercycle, in which mining companies expanded across the globe and boosted their CSR investment and activities, has ended. This expansion created multiple struggles and tension and has increased pressure from investors, national governments, civil society and local communities on mining companies to improve their environmental and social impacts. Expectations of mining company behaviour have been raised and are unlikely to fall. This book examines the drivers and consequences of the recent growth of CSR in the extractive industries. Risk and responsibility brings together literatures in geography, development studies and politics to examine of the political and development impacts of CSR in the mining sector. The book draws on over 200 semi-structured confidential interviews conducted in Canada, Ghana, Peru, USA and Zambia between 2011–2014 focussed on 6 case-study companies, to examine the functions and meanings CSR takes on across different scales of action. At the international level, CSR aims to attract capital and reduce shareholder risk; at the national level, it is used to improve the image of mining companies and curry favour with populations and regulators; at the local level, CSR profoundly reconfigures local political institutions to produce stable operating environments. In the mining industry, strategic pressures have come to be understood through the rubric of risk, for which CSR has come to be seen as the strategic tool which can unite the responses required of companies towards a range of stakeholders. Over eight chapters, Risk and responsibility examines the interplay of risk and responsibility at the heart of the political life of corporations.

It’s a ways off yet. My current best guess would be that it comes out in 2018.

Listen to my talk on politics, CSR and development

Following the success of my last podcast I’ve decided to record my talks and stick them on this blog. So, here is the audio for my talk ‘Talking about politics: corporate social responsibility and development in Ghana, Perú and Zambia’ at Mining and Communities Solutions 2016, University of British Columbia, 5-8 June 2016.

Despite this being my first talk at a mining industry conference, it went down really well and provoked quite a bit of discussion. Listening again I hear it mainly as a masterclass in saying ‘erm’ a lot (I was rather nervous) but I did get my main points across quite well. I had little reason to be nervous it seems as my message – that we need to talk about CSR as a political intervention into host countries and communities – was broadly well received. This conference was a gathering of people who really do what to improve the impacts and benefits of mining for local communities and therefore very encouraging. I’ll be posting about my ‘take homes’ in the coming days.

Do let me know what you think.

Presenting in Vancouver next week

Next week I’ll be presenting at the Mines and Communities conference at UBC in Vancouver. I have the much coveted last presentation of the day slot. My abstract reads thusly:

In this paper I argue for a more political understanding of the intentions and impacts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) spending in the mining sector in developing countries. These arguments are the result of a 3-year research project examining the drivers and impacts of international voluntary standards in the metals mining sector. This research has examined the decision making and development impacts of mining companies in Ghana, Perú and Zambia headquartered overseas. Data was gathered through over 180 confidential interviews, mainly with metals mining company employees at all levels, but also local communities, consultants, lobbyists, academics and government regulators. These interviews examined business strategy, regulation, CSR decision making and the impacts of CSR programmes and were supplemented by analyses of corporate plans, reports, policy briefs and the grey and academic literature. I begin by briefly elaborating the drivers of international voluntary standards in the sector before focussing on their impacts. Examining CSR projects and spending reveals four main ‘types’: public relations, instrumental, developmental and political. Each of these has different motivations, intended effects and development impacts. Importantly, each of these has political effects, interacting with local and national politics in different ways, with some having a profound impact. Yet, the current debate ignores or plays down the political effects of CSR. I argue that this is a mistake. If we are to understand and improve the development impact of CSR we must understand both the implicit and explicit political motivations of CSR spending, and engage in a clearer political analysis of the societies within which mining companies operate. Only with these clearly mapped can we understand the development potential of CSR spending. I conclude by pointing some ways to move towards a more ‘politically literate’ debate on CSR.

If you are around, do come along. I’ll try and record it so I can post here afterwards. I’ll also blog what I learned after the conference.

This is my first dalliance in attempting to talk the mining industry about the politics of CSR. I think this is really important for both understanding CSR working towards a more ‘developmentally effective’ set of programmes and approaches. We shall see how it goes.

Finding the business case for CSR

This post critiquing an article in Harvard Business Review article caught my attention recently. I’m catching up on old reading here but this article rehashes the perennial debate about ‘the business case for CSR’. The HBR article basically argues we’re asking too much of CSR if we’re asking it to make money:

“There is increasing pressure to dress up CSR as a business discipline and demand that every initiative deliver business results. That is asking too much of CSR and distracts from what must be its main goal: to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and values. If in doing so CSR activities mitigate risks, enhance reputation, and contribute to business results, that is all to the good. But for many CSR programs, those outcomes should be a spillover, not their reason for being.”

The response of CSR consultant Richard Hardyment is that “This is dangerous talk” and accuses HBR (not the authors, oddly) of “winding back the clock”. That if such arguments are entertained seriously all the good work of those arguing that there is a business case would be undone. If nothing else, this demonstrates a lack of conviction that the business case is a solid one that can stand some testing and scrutiny. One of the best (titled) articles on the subject makes the argument that the fact that the business case has been debated for so long (they survey decades of research) without conclusive evidence being presented only further undermines the argument for its existence.

There is a quite remarkable volume of literature about whether CSR initiatives make money or not, and the response summarises many of the arguments, but in my experience, the business case is a central if difficult to quantify argument. And when I say central, many think that, without it, CSR initiatives in the mining industry are pretty much dead in the water. However, things are a little more complex than a simple black/white argument. In Aseem Prakash’s pioneering work on companies going ‘beyond compliance’ in the US pharmaceuticals industry, such policies were often adopted without a clear business case being presented. In my own research in the mining industry, the language of ‘risk’ fills this gap between fuzzy, complex social world and hard numbers on the balance sheet. If you have to give away a massive mine as BHP did with OK Tedi in 2001 then CSR initiatives (and tailings management) were clearly a sensible investment. If you can get away without doing this and skirt the potential high costs of conflict, then there’s not really a ‘business case’. It’s not black and white and cannot be given a final answer, however much we may wish one. The ‘business case’ remains quite elusive and in David Vogel’s words, “niche”.

The tone of the response seems a little hysterical to me and stirs up my skepticism about whether there is something of the emperors new clothes about the universal push for CSR. The question of whether there is a business case is a perfectly legitimate one to be asked by any scholar (even those who choose overblown article titles like ‘The Truth About CSR’). That it is an uncomfortable one for those who’s livelihoods depend on it should surprise no one.