Australia is a big country, with a big mining industry: mining accounts for a fifth of the national economy.
Finland is a small country and we have a relatively small mining industry. In Australia, mines tend to be located in the wilderness and far from large settlements. Employees are flown to the mines for a certain work period and then flown home on leave. In Finland, in addition to environmental issues, subjects of discussion include regional economic development in mining municipalities, the importance of mines to the local economy, the settlement of employees’ families, local kindergarten places etc. So, in Finland we think in terms of building a normal, local lifestyle around possible mining operations, while in Australia miners leave their homes behind to journey to work through the trackless wilderness.
The position of residents in the proximity of mines is a subject of discussion – and measures taken – in both countries. Measures taken or not taken during and after the closure of mines are also a source of controversy. Various stakeholders with a range of needs operate close to the sector in both countries. In both, the financial success of mines depends on the same world markets. Both countries also seem to be engaged in a discussion of whether it makes sense to extract minerals, including large quantities of coal in Australia, and export them as raw materials without refining them into products further up the value chain.
Communications are difficult
Since Australia is such a key mining country, we agreed that it would be useful to ask antipodean experts how they handle stakeholder issues and what a responsible mining industry means in Australia. We interviewed just over twenty Australian mining industry professionals to find out about good practices.
The result was slightly surprising. We found no dramatic improvements on Finnish practices despite assuming that – in a big country with a long mining tradition – everything would be at least a little better than here. Both Australia’s and Finland’s mining industries have the same pressure points. In terms of the authorities’ impartiality or lack of it, challenges arise in the general perception that the authorities are too favourable towards the mining sector. Communication between different stakeholders is generally viewed as difficult in places. Keeping abreast of changes in the business environment – and changing mining operations accordingly – is important to ensuring that the sector’s activities remain acceptable in both Finland and Australia.
The corporate cultures vary in both countries; some companies are more communications and interaction-oriented than others – some communicate openly on their affairs, while others do not. Regardless of whether they operate in Finland or Australia, companies find it difficult to truly incorporate social responsibility issues in their strategies and operations. In addition, the tools used by Australians are no more effective than those used by their Finnish counterparts. We have similar management system tools – informal briefings are organised for locals, at which issues are discussed in language they understand, and so on.
Responsible persons and lobbying are genuinely beneficial
We also made some useful discoveries. The interviewees mentioned at least two noteworthy practices, even if they have not yet been tried out in full in Australia:
- The hiring of an experienced and wise expert on the mining process, who can see the big picture and interact well with various stakeholders.
- The creation of a strong lobbying organisation for the mining industry, which develops and maintains tools enabling interaction between the mining industry and stakeholders.
Both practices are applied to some extent in Finland: consultants and research institutes are involved in mining processes. Together with companies, the Finnish Mining Association has done a good job of taking charge in areas such as the creation, development and maintenance of a social responsibility network and systems for the mining industry. It has also established joint social responsibility reporting for the sector. So Australia and Finland are moving in the same direction.
In conclusion, our interviews confirm that we can be highly satisfied with recent developments in social responsibility in the Finnish mining industry.
Helena Wessman-Jääskeläinen, Senior Scientist