Canadian Mining Companies and the Shaping of Global Norms of Corporate Social Responsibility

By Dashwood, Hevina S. | International Journal, Autumn 2005 | Go to article overview

Canadian Mining Companies and the Shaping of Global Norms of Corporate Social Responsibility


Dashwood, Hevina S., International Journal


INTRODUCTION

The launch of the Global Mining Initiative (GMI) in 1998 marked a novel attempt to promote corporate social responsibility within the specific context of the mining sector. The GMI is novel in the sense that it was launched by a group of committed mining company executives from around the world. Comprising nonstate actors, without any direct involvement from states, the GMI can be characterized as a global transnational network among mining multinationals.1

The GMI represents an attempt by mining companies to shape the discourse on corporate responsibility and, ultimately, to influence the policies and practices of mining companies around the world. Characteristic of transnational networks in other fields, the GMI seeks to harness scientific expertise around sustainable mining practices, transmit information about such practices, and inculcate norms around acceptable corporate behaviour within the mining sector.2

The significance of the GMI lies not so much in its impact, which to date has been modest, but in the influences that drove mining companies to undertake this initiative. While some might dismiss mining companies' motives as a desire to improve their public relations, such a blanket dismissal fails to account for the variation between mining companies in terms of the policies and practices they have adopted. A desire to improve their public image is better understood as but one of a range of influences that have led to a significant shift in thinking on the part of mining companies. This article will explore those influences, and assess the significance of the GMI from the perspective of the literature on transnational networks. It will be argued that the GMI represents a conscious effort to promote learning and disseminate norms of acceptable corporate behaviour, which will be demonstrated by an examination of the participation of two Canadian mining companies, Noranda and Placer Dome. (Noranda merged with Falconbridge in March 2005.)

CONCEPTUALIZING THE GLOBAL MINING INITIATIVE

The GMI can be conceptualized within the larger context of the devolution of public (government) authority to the private sector in certain areas of global governance. Whereas traditionally global governance was the exclusive purview of the state, increasingly nonstate actors, such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and multinationals, have come to play a significant role. Transnational networks, such as the GMI, have developed around specific issue areas that transcend national boundaries and even bypass states altogether.

The devolution of political authority away from national governments can be understood as an important political by-product of globalization. This devolution has occurred downward, from the national government to the local/municipal level, and upwards to the international and transnational levels. Although the diminished/altered role of the state in various policy domains is portrayed as necessary or inevitable, the various processes associated with globalization have developed within the political context of the neoliberal consensus shared by the major industrialized powers. Advocates of neoliberalism favour trade liberalization, state deregulation, and responsible fiscal and monetary policies. In the developing world, governments have been urged to privatize and deregulate, and to liberalize trade. In the developed world, efforts to bring budget deficits under control have generally been associated with the erosion of the welfare state.

Furthermore, appreciation of the neoliberal context in which globalization has occurred lends support to the argument that states have voluntarily relinquished some of their regulatory powers.3 The neoliberal context of globalization suggests that the devolution of political authority is not so much an inevitable process, but a reflection of a political consensus that the role of the state should be minimized, and that a greater role should be accorded to the private sector.

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