Mining companies’ corporate social responsibility programs could yield better outcomes if they tackled “real change on the ground,” new research has found.

According to Simon Fraser University’s political economist Anil Hira, miners and companies in other sectors such as forestry and the textile industry should tie themselves to real changes that have broader and lasting impacts in the communities they reach out to.

In a paper published in the journal Global Affairs, Hira explains that this approach is a departure from the current, widespread idea of capital-intensive one-off projects. 

EITI data revealed that the mining the industry shows no real improvement for local communities or diminution of conflicts

By analyzing data on how Canadian companies fare in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), the researcher found that the industry shows no real improvement for local communities or diminution of conflicts, despite a plethora of global CSR efforts.

“If anyone buys a gold ring to get married, they can’t guarantee that gold hasn’t been produced by conflict or child labour in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Hira said in a media statement. “They can’t guarantee that people involved in that gold mining are getting a fair wage, or that their communities are benefiting from the mining project or that the environmental effects won’t last for generations once the mining project ends.”

In his view, these flaws make it difficult for consumers to make ethical product choices.

For the economist, one way to address these issues is by eliminating competing standards, something that companies can do by working with international organizations, NGOs and governments on a harmonized label for consumers. This would improve consumer confidence that the products they are buying were produced ethically and sustainably.

Hira also said that organizations can work with local unions and activists to put pressure on local governments to improve conditions for workers.

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