Reporting on Social Progress

With the publication of ICMM’s Social Progress in Mining Dependent Countries, ICMM Chief Operating Officer, Aidan Davy, discusses the report’s background and findings, and considers what lessons might be learned.

 

Was this a one-off report, or the latest in a series?

In itself it’s a one-off, but it’s one of a number of research pieces that we’re doing into the ways mining and metals contribute to society.

In 2015 we did a piece looking at mining’s role in national economies, at its contribution to export earnings, GDP, government finances and so on, but also things like the part governance plays in determining economic and social outcomes. In this report, we’ve shifted the focus to look at social progress in mining-dependent countries. How do they perform against a range of social metrics, over the long-term?

 

The survey covers two decades…was there any particular reason for choosing that time-frame – and those specific decades?

There was. Twenty years seemed like a decent time span to look at without being either skewed by short-term blips, or simply unmanageable. But the main reason for starting when we did was that it was really in the early-mid ‘90s that we began to see quite a bit of regulatory reform, and many emerging economies opening up to investment in the sector.

 

The report refers to a ‘widely-held perception’ that mining actively impedes social progress – is there such a perception?

I think so. It’s essentially the resource-curse proposition: that when it comes to social progress, countries with good mineral endowments tend to under-perform those without.

I think there is a more nuanced view nowadays – certainly among the development community – that takes on board also the importance of governance issues. But yes, I think there’s still a pretty widely held perception that social progress is hindered in countries rich in mineral resources, in terms of poverty, education or other social metrics.

 

 And the report seems to suggest that this is in fact diametrically opposed to the facts?

Yes…I think that’s right. One of the most striking findings of the report is that countries that are mining dependent aren’t just making strong progress against the UN’s sustainable development goals, they’re making stronger progress than countries that aren’t. One of the things I find fascinating is just how little empiric evidence there seems to be into how countries with a heavy reliance on mining have fared in terms of social progress. There’s been quite a lot of work in the economic area, but no one seems to have said okay, let’s look at the actual evidence on social outcomes, at the national or sub-national level, as we’ve done in this report. I find that intriguing.

 

Do we know how much of the improvement highlighted in the report is down to, as it were, a bigger cake, and how much to more equitable shares of what cake there is?

The honest answer is no, we don’t know. We didn’t really look at distribution; we looked at outcomes. The report does show clearly, though, that mineral-dependent countries improved more than non-mineral-dependent countries in absolute terms during the resource-boom period, particularly in poverty reduction.

Having said that, it would be remiss not to acknowledge that there are three levels where you really want to see progress: national, sub-national and local. And this report really covers only the first two. That’s important, because it’s at the local level that mining’s adverse effects manifest themselves. And I suspect that macro-level perceptions are often informed or at least influenced by extrapolation from those local impacts, especially when social and environmental impacts are poorly managed.

 

What conclusions would you draw from the report?

While we are seeing great progress across a range of social metrics across all mining dependent countries, we’re seeing the best performance in the best-governed countries. One important conclusion to draw is that while there are limitations to our understanding of some of the findings in the report, there’s ample clear evidence to show governments where progress has been less strong (such as around governance, gender equality and decent work). Governments don’t need to fully understand the reasons why, to begin increasing their efforts to improve in these areas.

 

Why are you launching the report now?

The UN introduced its SDGs, which we’ve used as the lens through which to look at progress – in 2015. We wanted to launch this at a time when a conversation was taking place around the SDGs; the UN High Level Political Forum currently taking place in New York seemed to offer that opportunity.

 

Everything in the report is couched in terms of the UN SDGs; is it worth noting that the last of those SDGs is about partnership, and the implications for governance?

Absolutely. The UN’s Global Goals explicitly recognise that partnerships between governments, business and civil society are critical to their success. The partnerships with business will be especially important in unlocking the private sector capital that will be needed to achieve them.

And although it’s notable that progress on governance has been weakest, where the report takes a granular look at social progress and governance, it concludes that there is indeed a correlation: that better governance does feed through to better economic and social progress. The SDGs acknowledge that partnerships, between government, civil society and companies, are the best – perhaps the only – route to substantive and sustainable progress.

 

Do you foresee further surveys along these lines, or is this a case of ‘job done’?

I think this is the kind of research where there’s real value in doing it every five years, but shorter intervals probably won’t tell you much. But I think this report forms a basis for engaging organisations and institutions in a constructive way, asking how do you organise yourself and your efforts in a way that will help drive continued progress?

Toward the end we flag some gaps that suggest interesting areas for future research – either by ICMM or others.