In 2015, Ernst and Young (EY) ranked socio-political license to operate (SPLTO) as the fifth greatest challenge to the mining sector (EY, 2015). The EY report asserts that SPLTO will continue to present a risk to the mining sector in the context of ‘increased activism, digitally connected stakeholders and politicians who need to respond to general consensus’. While there is no consensus on a definition, SPLTO is commonly regarded as the ongoing acceptance or approval of an operation by affected stakeholders (Moffat and Zhang, 2014; Thomson and Joyce, 2008) as well as those stakeholders that can affect the operation (Graafland, 2002). Warhurst (2001) relates the process of stakeholders granting SPLTO to the establishment of meaningful partnerships between operations, communities and government based on a variety of factors that build trust between stakeholders.
From these accounts, we can see that understanding stakeholder attitudes about company performance and impacts on stakeholders directly affected by an operation are important in any attempts to measure SPLTO. Understanding the level of acceptance of an operation within these stakeholders provides a good proxy or outcome measure of SPLTO. Moreover, trust seems to be a central variable in the translation of these experiences of an operation into acceptance. What the mine or company does, its behaviour, degrades or builds trust with stakeholders, and this then affects acceptance (Moffat and Zhang, 2014).
In addition, a strong emphasis is placed on the nature of the relationship between companies and stakeholders as influenced by inter‐group interactions. It is not just what companies do well or poorly with respect to environmental impacts, for example, that will determine trust and acceptance, but how the company relates to its stakeholders at personal and group levels.
These relationships between communities of stakeholders and extractive companies are dynamic. Brown and Fraser (2006) recognised the importance of industry being able to respond to the changing nature of societal approval and acceptance, arguing that ‘business must have regard for evolving social attitudes and expectations if it is to maintain its ‘social licence’’.
This paper will describe a series of five pilot projects conducted by CSIRO with Anglo American in Australia and South Africa to generate a real-time understanding of SPLTO to guide more reflexive and effective social performance strategies.
Moffat, K, Boughen, N, Brooks, L and Zhang, A, 2016. Social licence in real-time – using dynamic methods to support a new kind of community relationship, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2016 Conference, pp 191–194 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).