CSR21 talks to the newly launched CIIEID

Thursday, 13 February, 2014

Alongside the Winter Olympics in Sochi, last week saw a rather more prudent launch of the CIIEID, acronym for the Canadian International Institute for Extractive Industries and Development. The past few years have seen something of an acceleration in transparency and CSR concerns in the extractive industries, with a growth in organizations and watchdogs abetted by the internet and an increasingly plugged in global population.

One country who really stands out in this growth spurt has been Canada, who have been diligently establishing a CSR Counsellor, financial transparency legislations and now the CIIEID. Eager to find out what they were offering, CSR21 spoke to Malcom Scoble, Director at the institute; and he gave a frank introduction: “I can open my local Vancouver newspaper every day and there’s usually some form of article that relates to issues around mining globally, and that will often involve Canadian companies,”

"So the public perception, reputation and place of mining is now becoming much more transparent and open to the public as well. It’s not just the traditional perception that it is something dark and dangerous etc. now it’s something that’s - if you like - being recognized for its significance, for its importance, and the need on the part of those people to be involved, and this whole concept of social license is now becoming so much more recognizable to the population."

There are all sorts of theories on why transparency and CSR has picked up so much traction the past decade: was it the internet? An increase in conflict? Or resource nationalism? Perhaps true to his West Coast habitat, Scoble sees it as part of a ‘natural flow’ towards social consciousness, but he does suggest that it is primarily the growth in communications that have engendered a much greater attention towards industry conduct: ‘I haven’t seen any work on this, but I don’t know whether the frequency of what one might call conflict is greater, or whether it’s simply the fact that the situations are now so much more prominent,”

“What we’ve seen is the emergence of a will to invoke attention to sustainability and social issues as well as environmental and technical areas. We started to rub shoulders with the business school at Simon Fraser University downtown, at their annual GEMM conference, they’ve been remarkably good at developing an annual event attracting people globally, that looks at principally social issues in mining development. So a partnership with a university in a mining country sponsored by taxpayers is a logical mechanism to try to help not just the healthy growth of its own mining industry, but the responsibility of and contribution to global issues.”

Getting into detail, the CIIEID takes inspiration from Australia’s own IM4DC (“some recognition should go to them”), and it offers four core services:

“Basically we have an advisory centre, which has a group of people 'in the know', who interface and communicate with a range of groups from government, industry and civil society. Then we have the ‘learning centre’: they will bring people in who know what they’re talking about to expose people to best practices, people that can go somewhere, put on short course etc.

There’s the applied research centre, which is basically research projects, gaining insights and contributing to solving problems,

Then we have a fourth group for engagement and dialogue, we call it the ‘dialogue centre’, that facilitates people coming together from all backgrounds and creating atmosphere where people can exchange and debate what may well be controversial issues; so there’s lots of areas of activity that one can choose from.”

‘It all sounds very noble’ Scoble says dryly, but we both agree that the challenges remain great, and with corruption increasing according to Transparency International, there are no illusions about the current environment they face. Asked about how CIIEID will work in the midst of such corruption, Scoble was clear:

“Corruption is a phenomenal challenge, I think it’s a quest of case by case project by project gaining experience networking, we’re not a politically active group, that’s not our role, and perhaps we need to be very careful, at the same time, we must be clear and transparent ourselves. This is an extremely challenging issue, no one denies that corruption at all levels is a major problem.”

With such a growth of CSR and transparency organizations, the pressure is very much on to start making some meaningful changes worldwide. But political battles such as South Africa’s endemic labour disputes, or tussles between companies and states, such as French uranium company Areva in Niger, have led some to question the overall gains made by transparency and CSR.

There is often a neglect of the political aspect of mining, and one senses a sort of technocratic complacency from some quarters, that once all the right CSR, transparency and sustainability components are in place, then all will be well. Playing devil’s advocate, I wondered how effective these urbane and metropolitan think tanks can be in resolving large scale and bitter disputes over sometimes billions of dollars, such as in Niger. “That’s a really tough question,” Scoble soberly replied,

“there are a range of models of situations of the corporate world and its activity in a developing country. There are so many dimensions of mining, but there is an emergence of a recognition of mining as being something more than an excavation process. Part of what we were talking about in our recommendations is simply fairness: transparency is one thing, but when one looks inside, one also needs to see that there’s been good ethical conduct on the part of all concerned and that a fair deal has been struck.”

From here on, one must watch the space. Where will we see the CIIEID appear and in what capacity? Certainly, the mining industry is a sector that can take on more initiatives to help improve its social gains, but as I pontificated earlier, with so much discontent towards the excavation process still haunting this world, the pressure is on for them to deliver.