Are Sustainability Reports Designed for Local Communities?

Unable to attend the GRI conference in Amsterdam, I watched the many taped snippets of the Mining & Metals Sector Supplement session on YouTube. One take away from a presentation by First Peoples Worldwide suggests that GRI reports are important but also that they are not designed with local communities as target audience in mind.The session around GRI's Metals and Mining Sector Supplement, which was launched already during 78th Annual Convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) held in Toronto in February 2010, began innocently enough. GRI welcomed everybody. Vale, one of the largest metals and mining companies in the world, framed the session and highlighted upsides of transitioning from CSR reporting to GRI type sustainability reporting. No major surprises there.

The presentation by the representative of First Peoples Worldwide , an NGO, got my attention. The presenter recognized the value of reporting as it provides the context for intervention by – what I call – “intermediaries”. These groups can use sustainability reports to better understand the larger corporate policy context on specific issues and shape their strategies, interventions and collaborations.

For example, GRI reports may contain companies’ approaches to indigenous peoples issues and may include a discussion on concepts such as ‘Free Prior Informed Consultation/Consent’ or FPIC (see also my previous blog here). However, the presenter also recognized that GRI reports do not provide readily accessible information to local communities and are not particularly useful to help with the engagement process.

An additional challenge probably includes that many problems are seeded further ‘upstream’. By that I mean activities conducted (or left out) during exploration and development stages of mining projects. Mistakes at this stage can fuel unrealistic expectations and other  long-term social conflicts. There are precious few sustainability reporters amongst this ‘upstream’ group of exploration and junior mining companies, although the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) is hoping to change that (a topic for a future blog).

Will GRI’s drive towards integrated financial and sustainability reporting further remove local communities as target audiences of sustainability reports?

Mehrdad Nazari is Senior CSR, GRI & ESIA Advisor at Prizma LLC (http://www.prizmablog.com, www.prizmasolutions.com)

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