Academic journal article Multinational Business Review

Towards Sustainable Mining: The Corporate Role in the Construction of Global Standards

Academic journal article Multinational Business Review

Towards Sustainable Mining: The Corporate Role in the Construction of Global Standards

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Drawing upon research on the initiatives of Canadian mining companies, this paper examines private efforts in the mining sector to promote acceptable standards of corporate social responsibility (CSR). This paper asks how important emerging global CSR norms have been in influencing the adoption of CSR policies. Sustainable development is a universally accepted principle of environmental protection, and serves as an important indicator of the influence of global CSR norms on mining companies. Most mining companies have embraced the concept of sustainable development to frame their CSR policies. Emerging global CSR norms have thereby set the macro-level context in which CSR policies have been adopted and evolved at the micro level.

INTRODUCTION

From the mid-1990s, multinational mining companies began to adopt sustainable development policies to reflect their commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). By the early 2000s, virtually all large mining companies were producing annual sustainable development reports. This study explores the influences that led two Canadian mining companies, Noranda and Placer Dome,' to adopt CSR policies, and asks how important emerging global CSR norms were in influencing those policies. The acceptance by mining companies of sustainable development to frame their CSR policies reflects the global (macro-level) context in which they were operating. The decision to adopt CSR policies in the first instance can best be explained at the micro level, where internal company and organizational determinants proved especially salient.

Environmental devastation associated with hard-rock mining means that much is at stake in the push to promote greater responsibility amongst mining companies. That mining companies would voluntarily seek to improve their environmental and social performance is contrary to what might be expected of them. Structural conditions faced by the mining industry would lead one to expect that mining executives would be reactive and defensive about environmental issues. Certainly, some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are highly skeptical of the intentions of mining companies. As such, the promotion of CSR by mining companies as something more than a public relations exercise can be considered a "hard" case.

To control for the range of possible influences on CSR policies, the companies for this study were selected from the mining and minerals sector, with Noranda involved in nickel, copper, and zinc and Placer Dome primarily in gold. The choice of two Canadian mining multinationals is appropriate, as Canada is a major global player in the mining and minerals sector. Canadian companies operate over 130 mines abroad, and exploration companies have 2,800 properties in over 100 countries (Natural Resources Canada 2006).

The embrace by mining companies of sustainable development as a means to frame their CSR policies is an important indicator of the influence of emerging global CSR norms. By the early 1990s, global norms on the environment had been widely recognized by states and global civil society. Sustainable development had become the leading principle guiding efforts to protect the environment, as evidenced in global environmental treaties and conferences. Most companies in the mining sector had not accepted sustainability norms, but over the course of the 1990s that began to change.

By the late 1990s, many mining companies had adopted the language of sustainable development as a means to frame their CSR policies. All came to accept the broad definition employed by the Brundtland Commission, namely, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the absence of global norms, mining companies would not have had a reason to frame their CSR policies in terms of sustainable development. As such, the global normative weight of sustainable development provided the context in which Placer Dome and Noranda framed their CSR policies. …

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