The importance of social sustainability, and organizations responsibility to communities is not questioned.
Gerrie Muller, Senior Executive and Social Sustainability subject matter expert at IsoMetrix, explains that in broad terms, sustainable development means that this generation ought to leave the planet in a better state than we found it in, and that includes making sure that we have done everything in our power (and that’s quite a lot) to make sure that communities are better off. At the very least, we are tasked with not compromising the quality of life of the next generation.
“Social sustainability means conducting business as good corporate citizens,” says Gerrie, “and not just in a way that we think is acceptable, but in a way that is genuinely accepted by communities.”
There has been a significant increase in awareness around social sustainability, according to Gerrie. Larger corporations must get involved in community development. There is a growing global awareness that we cannot continue to operate in a strictly capitalist society, plundering resources as we go.
“While there are definite ethical reasons for caring how we interact with communities and considering the impact we have on them, there is also a mutual self-interest,” explains Gerrie. “From an economic perspective, by looking after the needs of poor communities, we mitigate the risks of protests which disrupt production.”
In fact, the risk is so high, that multiple reports from the likes of Ernst & Young and PwC put Social License to Operate as the number one priority of the extractive industry. The question then, is what are organizations doing to mitigate this risk?
Social sustainability is difficult to measure
And, as the well-worn corporate adage reminds us, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Literacy rates, life expectancy, GDP per capita, and other factors that determine a “human development index” are difficult to measure.
Gerrie explains that there are tried and tested development indicators and lagging indicators. “But it is only after you have conducted surveys, that you can determine if your ‘human development index’ has gone up or down.”
“The issue is compounded by the human element,” explains Gerrie, “when you measure pollution and waste or air quality, you can follow scientific methodology; measure it daily and correct quickly.” Social sustainability is not as clear cut. “You are managing a perception, your reputation. When a community believes they are being negatively impacted, you get protests, even if it is just a misunderstanding and a lack of communication.”
There are several different standards that outline what social sustainability looks like, which include:
- World Bank on Environmental and Social Impact Management
- International Finance Corporation Performance Standards
- ICMM Performance expectations
While there are different sets of standards, they have common themes and topics. These include:
- preventing human rights abuses
- fair labor practices to all employees
- identifying and managing social impacts
- human resettlement
- community health safety and security
- land acquisition and involuntary resettlement.
Just complying with the legislation is not enough. Just complying does not remove the boundaries. In South Africa, compliance standards around social sustainability is strict. “South African legislation exceeds the minimum requirements set out in standards elsewhere,” says Gerrie. Where elsewhere the minimum requirements may be broadly defined as not committing human rights abuses, not engaging child labor and no corruption, Gerrie maintains that the key is to go beyond that. “When you view a community as a resource, and develop those resources through projects, you can reap the mutual benefit of a community with an upskilled workforce that has been lifted out of poverty. A community then becomes an asset in charge of its own empowerment, and not one dolefully awaiting a handout from the mine,” he says.
IsoMetrix’s Social Sustainability suite of solutions is borne out of this strict legislation, and as such, is better equipped to help mines meet their sustainability goals.
The IsoMetrix Solution
“In South Africa, social performance is legally enshrined and mines must implement these regulations by law,” says Gerrie. Unless you have a structured approach and you record all the details in your social management, it becomes difficult to measure your performance. In addition, our Socio-Economic Development Module is designed to assist mines to train their employees and to develop communities around the mine.
“The IsoMetrix dashboards help you achieve this by giving you visibility on all actions and allow you to track and manage according to the guideline, standard or legislation that you are following,” says Gerrie. “It immediately draws your attention to areas that require your attention, and allows you to drill down into the data for further analysis.