Losing Your Social Licence – by Anthony Davis (Lexpert Special Edition: Mining – 2016/2017)


The global mining sector is under crushing pressure to slash budgets for project development just to survive the current cycle of low metal prices. Yet, while some Canadian mining outfits operating domestically and abroad are touching the brakes on their corporate social responsibility programs, most realize completely stopping CSR programs to save money could be a death knell for current operations and future development when prices do bounce back.

Toronto environmental lawyer Adam Chamberlain hasn’t personally seen mining-sector clients or companies “pushing aside their CSR initiatives.” But, adds Chamberlain, National Leader of the Team North, Aboriginal Law and Climate Change Groups at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, with profits down in the sector there’s been a disincentive to move CSR initiatives ahead at the pace they once did.

“That has implications. Even if you still have every intention of doing all the great things you need to do to maintain your CSR commitments to the outside world, it’s going to look like you are doing less, even if you eventually do the same things you’ve always promised you’d do.”

So it’s important, says Chamberlain, that even when markets are down mining companies maintain relationships they’ve fostered in the communities where they operate now or plan to one day. The concept of social licence to operate (SLO) after all – that tricky and rapidly intensifying necessity to gain the trust and consent of local and indigenous communities to operate on their turf – is both hard to earn and easy to lose.

Smart, responsible companies know that, says Robin Junger, who co-chairs the Aboriginal and Environmental practice at McMillan LLP in Vancouver. A chief treaty negotiator and former Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources as well as Energy and Clean Technology in the British Columbia government, Junger helped develop some of the province’s key environmental legislation. He’s helped major project developers in LNG and mining reach benefit and capacity funding agreements with Aboriginal groups.

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