Thursday, May 6, 2010

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is NO Laughing Matter for Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI) - Thoughts on the SMI Discovery Tour

All throughout the SMI Discovery Tour sponsored by Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI) on March 6, I kept hearing in my mind this old love song, They All Laughed, whose lyrics are:

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus when he said the world was round
They all laughed when Edison recorded sound
They all laughed at Wilbur and his brother when they said that man could fly

Surely, if efforts of Christopher Columbus, Edison and the Wright brothers were shot down by the laughter of the people of their times, no progress would have been made in travel, geography, media and flight. Hence, the beleaguered Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI) forges on with its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts facing not only laughter, but rants and rallies from protesting stakeholders.

In these environmentally-conscious times, Sagittarius Mining Inc. Tampakan Project faces several stakeholders who perceive the company to be a threat to the environment: church-based groups, pro-environment (green) groups, indigenous groups, cause-oriented groups, you name it and they're up in arms against mining activities here and elsewhere fueled by the Marcopper disaster, the films Avatar and Blood Diamond, and the general alarm over global warming.

The mining industry is so easy to demonize because it is an extractive industry (meaning, it is not like genetic industries like fisheries and agriculture which produce raw materials) in the same manner as the tuna fishing industry. Like any industry since the Industrial Revolution, the mining industry started out as a profit-oriented one. In the 90s, this orientation became the focus of worldwide criticism. A recent example of this is Nike which was criticized for employing child labor in Cambodia and Pakistan in manufacturing its volleyballs. As a result, profit-seeking efforts by industries worldwide are now tempered with self-initiated ethical business practices. Hence, the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

An accepted definition of CSR is: a voluntary approach that a business enterprise takes to meet or exceed stakeholder expectations by integrating social, ethical, and environmental concerns together with the usual measures of revenue, profit, and legal obligation.

SMI received its CSR mandate from Xstrata. In a Newsbreak Online report, Mining companies put CSR on top of business agenda,

Before Xstrata Copper, the fourth largest copper producer in the world, acquired 62.5 percent of Sagittarius Mines Inc. in March 2007, the Australian-based mining company first required SMI to come up with, among other things, a financially and strategically sound Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plan.

It came as no surprise. Xstrata makes sure that its representatives all over the world,  including the companies it has bought or partnered with in seven countries, are socially responsible.

And it is not alone. British, American and Canadian mining companies have all been calling for the practice of responsible mining in the areas where they operate . . .

So when Xstrata required a comprehensive CSR program, SMI came up with a hefty P23 million-worth of community development projects. Before this, SMI had already conducted CSR initiatives including reforestation, roadside greening, scholarship grants, medical outreach and livelihood programs.

Let us make it clear that SMI at this point has NOT yet started its mining operation. It is conducting explorations to determine the quality of copper in the project site straddling the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur. But it is working on permit requirements before it can start operating for a period of 20 years. These requirements include a CSR program and Enviromental Compliance Certification. 

Confronted with hostile stakeholder-groups who question the company's  motives, SMI offers its hands in working with them. Fortunately for SMI, it has three predecessors whose CSR programs are lauded: Philex Mining Corp. in Padcal mine, Benguet, Silangan Mindanao Exploration Company Inc. in Boyongan, Surigao del Norte, and APO Cement Corp. in Naga, Cebu. To temper its profit orientation, global corporations have come to put CSR on top of their agenda, next to financial viability.  SMI has already started its community engagement activities: community relations through transparent consultation and communication, community development programs focusing on education, health, skills training and enterprise development aimed at helping communities establish sustainable economies that can survive long after its mining operations end, and to protect and preserve the integrity and rights of the indigenous peoplesfront-line employees and contractors are inducted on socio-cultural sensitivity which includes an orientation on legal statutes that deal on respect for indigenous rights, inclusive of cultural properties. It may well serve the hostile stakeholder-groups to think about this: what have they got to offer the other stakeholders aside from mere opposition?

SMI people walk their talk. SMI now engages the services of local people to coordinate with the stakeholders. Visitors to its core farm, project site and community-beneficiaries in Sitio Salnaong, Sultan Kudarat are gently reminded to respect the culture of the B'laans. SMI initiated an Art Camp for South Cotabato kids and their artistic outputs are featured prominently in SMI wall and desk calendars. Others would be satisfied in launching an art contest and giving out prizes and that's all there is. But SMI goes one step further by placing the kids' drawings in calendars they can be proud of.

The SMI Discovery Tour gave me and the bloggers the chance to see CSR in action. To my mind, there is no doubt that the Marcopper environmental fiasco was a mistake SMI is not going to commit because the stakeholders in its project site in  South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur will be vigilant about this and because SMI people really need to work together with the stakeholders for a sustainable future.

Thanks to Team SMI headed by Sheila Melissa Maniego and Bench Tacumba for the eye-opening tour!

1 comment:

wish-witch said...

thanks for the mention at the end :) i didn't see this until now...
merry christmas!

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