August 2019

Recap: AusIMM’s Social Licence to Operate Policy Development Forum

  • By Bruce Harvey FAusIMM, Chair, AusIMM Social Licence to Operate Policy Development Forum Organising Committee

An overview of AusIMM’s recent social licence discussion and draft recommendations

Social licence to operate (SLTO) was recently identified as number one in EY’s Executive Leader Survey Top 10 business risks facing mining and metals in 2019-20. But there is still much for the industry to examine when it comes to defining social licence, how necessary it is and the role of a professional when it comes to growing and maintaining social licence.

SLTO is an elusive and much debated term. Essentially, it is an ‘intangible social contract’ deriving from a resource developer’s ability to secure broad-based support by working with affected communities and stakeholders, demonstrating to them that it is in everybody’s best interest to develop and operate resource assets. SLTO is dynamic and non-permanent, and has to be earned and maintained continuously by demonstrated behaviours across all of a business’s assets. Businesses need SLTO to secure and maintain their legal licence to operate, and these days it frequently determines the feasibility of a project and the speed at which it is developed. Accordingly, AusIMM recognises that it has a vital role in helping its members gain and affirm credentials that are critical to maintaining SLTO. 

To this end, an AusIMM forum involving 77 members was convened in Melbourne on 15-16 May, coincident with AusIMM Congress. The 77 attendees represented a cross section of gender, membership grade, branches, societies, geography, culture and occupational backgrounds. Organised by members of the AusIMM Consultants Society and the AusIMM Community and Environment Society, the forum objectives were to obtain advice from a broad representation of AusIMM members to help develop SLTO policy recommendations to contribute to AusIMM’s ‘Trusted Voice’ initiative. The forum also complemented AusIMM’s hosting of the Ninth International Conference on Sustainable Development in the Minerals Industry (SDIMI), held in Sydney on 27-29 May. 

The forum involved a day-and-a-half of plenary sessions, breakout workshops and networking discussion. The plenaries included sessions setting the scene and context, panel sessions, presentations on various SLTO themes and sessions that summarised the outcomes of the breakout workshops. In total, 30 breakout group sessions were held, led by a facilitator and supported by an AusIMM student recorder. Forum participants were divided into three groups for breakout workshops, each maintaining broad representation, and each was given a theme to discuss, debate and draw conclusions. Topics included issues such as how industry is currently performing in specific areas and what the group believed AusIMM should implement to support its members to succeed in SLTO. 

Each topic was supported by a guidance note developed by the forum organising committee, which was circulated a week before the forum to allow participants time to prepare. Each facilitator was free to run their breakout workshops as they saw fit, which led to a number of different approaches ranging from several 2-5 person groups tackling different topics, to large group discussions on specified topics. At the conclusion of the breakout workshops, the key takeaways for each topic were reported back to the plenary and documented.

Stephen Hancock presents at the AusIMM Social Licence to Operate Policy Development Forum.

The observations and recommendations arising from workshops and plenaries have been compiled into a comprehensive 25-page report that will be considered by AusIMM’s Policy and Advocacy Committee for refinement before presentation to the AusIMM Board. Draft observations and recommendations are listed below. 

  • The forum is a first step in developing a social licence strategy to be part of AusIMM’s Trusted Voice initiative. At this stage of the journey, AusIMM’s social licence position can be neither detailed nor definitive; however, detail should coalesce through a series of activities to be conducted in the next 12-24 months. 
  • Social licence should be a ‘key issue’ in AusIMM’s public narrative, reflecting members’ strong desire to have their world-class skills and contributions to society publicly recognised. Social licence should be strongly manifested in AusIMM’s key focus areas – policy, advocacy avenues and social media. 
  • AusIMM policy positions on social licence and sustainable mining should be developed through the work of the forum, the Policy and Advocacy Committee and the AusIMM Board. 
  • Focusing on its professional membership, AusIMM needs to develop an appropriate ‘sustainable mining’ definition and social licence principles, codes of conduct, competency descriptions, recommended practices and guidelines, toolkits and endorsements. Given the plethora of existing regulatory, industry organisation and financial sector environmental, social and governance (ESG) codes, AusIMM’s initial position should be focused primarily on evaluation and endorsement of these, and where practicable later consider complementary development.
  • AusIMM needs to invest resources, Chartered Professional status and strong brand position to nurture ESG performance and competency bases amongst its membership and promulgate these throughout the mining industry. Social licence competency development needs to embrace undergraduate education, broad upskilling of all mining professionals and specific professional ESG disciplines with chartered status. Codes of conduct and competencies endorsed in this way can complement AusIMM’s leadership role in the certification of world-class standards such as JORC. AusIMM ESG chartered professional status should set the benchmark for mining industry good practice. 
  • Stronger corporate ESG public disclosure will stimulate confidence in our stakeholder relationships, thereby eliminating information voids that end up being negatively occupied by anti-mining commentators.
  • AusIMM’s digital transformation of its website, publications, conferences and e-training capabilities provides an ideal platform for promoting mining industry good practice to win the trust and respect of the communities in which our members live and work. 
  • The AusIMM Community and Environment Society and AusIMM Consultants Society Committees can be charged with defining ‘sustainable mining’ consistent with the Brundtland (1987) definition of sustainable development, with specific attention to developing generic criteria for sustainable mining outcomes as a basis for future development.
  • The AusIMM Community and Environment Society Committee can be charged with selecting and refining specific AusIMM ESG performance lexicons, competency sets, codes, guidance notes and certification criteria to be hosted on the AusIMM e-platform. 
  • Assuming a leadership role, AusIMM should do this in active collaboration with like-minded professional bodies around the globe and across the natural resource sectors to achieve cross-sectoral consistency in ESG and social licence professional prestige. 

More work on AusIMM’s social licence position will take place over the next year and interested members are encouraged to register their interest by emailing and get involved.

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