The Responsible Mining Index came out a few weeks ago and it’s a very interesting read and resource. It’s already helped me in my research and I am very glad for it’s existence. If you’ve not yet checked it out, do. It’s well thought through, gathers lots of information which is attractively presented and in so doing makes widely accessible useful and interesting information. So far, well done.
It is not, however, an actual index of how responsible mining companies are. The key sentence in their methodology report is this:
“RMI will not undertake systematic mine-site visits to verify the accuracy of information provided on the minesite indicators”
Translation: We didn’t actually check to see if these companies are ‘responsible’ on the ground.
I feel the problem here is self evident – if you wanted to know if I was good neighbour, would you just ask me if I played loud music late at night, or would you also ask my neighbours?
While the RMI is not 100% another example of the mining industry marking its own homework, the majority of the information does seem to come from mining companies. This is then supplemented with other information in the public domain, followed by an unspecified ‘expert review’. I’m not the only one to note flaws in the information reported. The usually sympathetic mining.com chose to run with a headline criticising the paucity of the self-reporting by the mining industry.
This is not an isolated problem. The vast majority of research and work on CSR by companies in developing countries fails a simple test: did you check if it was true? There is so much research out there which basically analyses the easily accessible data about CSR (the reports and what companies themselves produce) but does not actually seek the perspectives of those living with operations and CSR programmes in the developing world or seek to measure outcomes rather than outputs (i.e. not ‘how many people did you train?’ but ‘how much did people’s benefit as a result of the training?’). There are good reasons for this. Gathering this data is expensive, challenging and cumbersome. It is, however, critical if we are to make any kind of valid estimation of whether a company is ‘responsible’ or not. Without it, any picture we have has glaring absences. The perspectives of those who live with mining operations cannot be ignored in any objective assessment of responsible behaviour. To do so, and claim that an objective assessment of responsibility has been made, is irresponsible.
If looking at the impacts and CSR programmes of large mining companies on the ground has taught me one thing, it’s that the reports produced by mining companies selectively represent a much more complex reality. Mining operations are complicated, sprawling and dynamic affairs. CSR and community relations programmes are often also equally complicated, sprawling and dynamic. They exist in environments riddled with contradictions, conflicting interests, sharp political cleavages and, often, acute poverty. Acting ‘responsibly’ in such settings is tremendously challenging and I’ve yet to find a company that doesn’t have some areas where they fall short of the mark of being a ‘responsible’ organisation (I’m looking at you, resettlement programmes). By the same token, all the companies I have seen have areas where they have gone above and beyond what could be reasonably expected of a ‘responsible’ organisation – often without this being recognised or getting the commendation it deserves.
We need an index which captures more of this complexity. And we need an index that includes the voices of those who do not work for mining companies but live with them. If the RMI could bring together all the data they already have with a methodology that included people who live with mining company operations, it would be a lot closer to being a responsible mining index.