By Fermin Selva and Cameron Holmstrom
In an increasingly small and interconnected world, we are seeing impacts on many industries and how they operate. This is the same for new industries built around innovative technologies and older, traditional industries, built around the development of natural resources. It is becoming increasingly important to proactively tell one’s own story and educate the wider public on their work. Through out our discussions, it became clear to us that in this age of social media transparency and proactivity are important principles when operating in traditional industries.
In this regard, Fermin pointed to an example from the mining sector. Mining activity in Argentina has a historic of lack of transparency in its relationship with local communities and the press. At the same time, in the past, it was a frequent practice for these companies to not use local labor in their projects. This situation led to the emergence of an anti-mining sentiment in the populations that were close to the projects because they were not able to enjoy the benefits that the industry could provide to them. Also, this local feeling was increased by the pro-environmental organizations in the urban centers of the country who were against any kind of mining activity.
Simultaneity, representatives from the more nationalistic and leftish of Argentine society believe that “multinational companies are stealing the country’s resources”. The argument says that mining companies pay little-or-no taxes to export the minerals and the country is simply left with “holes in the ground”. One of his clients is currently involve in the development of a new mining project in Argentina. The project is in Catamarca, next to a city that is considered one of the most anti-mining places in the country. This sentiment is due to a combination of the bullets above their experience with a project that was developed in the nineties and used almost no local labour.
To respond to this anti-mining sentiment, Fermin guided his clients to respond with information, transparency, and a close relationship with the local community. In this way, currently over 90% of the labor force is from the surrounding communities and the Catamarca province. Because the surrounding communities do not have the required known how to participate in almost all the required jobs for the project, the company has been implementing a series of capacitation’s for them to acquire the required skills.
For maximum transparency and information, they invited local communities to visit the mining site, where a tour and an explanation of everything that is being done. During these tours, people are encouraged to ask any question they have, to take pictures or record what they are seeing. This practice has been implemented for press representative as well. In this way, journalists from the main national and sector media are being flown to the mining project so that they can do the tour, talk to workers, and record anything they want. As a rule, there are no taboo issues to be discussed with visitors, transparency is considered a key factor to disregard all the myths that surround the activity.
All this was done with the goal of educating the population about the real implications of the mining project and its impact. This is helping to fight the lies and misinformation about it with constant transparency and information. This is also helping Fermin’s clients to obtain the necessary social license for the project to be conducted with the support and with the active participation of local communities.
Further to that example, Cam pointed to Bluesky’s experience working with various miners in Canada and issues that have arisen where proactive storytelling, transparency and swift replies have helped to inoculate them against potential further damage to these projects and long-term successes. The prime example is Bluesky’s work with Agnico Eagle, Canada’s largest gold producer with operations in Northern Quebec, Northern Ontario, the arctic territory of Nunavut, Mexico, and Finland. Agnico is an industry leader when it comes to their business practices, including environmental and Indigenous engagement. They are a Canadian good news story in a sector where unfortunately there are too many examples of Canadian firms acting poorly abroad.
That track record and business ethos created a strong lever to use when introducing Agnico to governments at all levels. When Bluesky started with Agnico, this was a part of our opening strategy, telling the good word about this Canadian corporate champion, doing business the right way and in a manner that aligned with the federal Liberal governments approach and world view. In short, Agnico had an exceptional story to tell and we seeked out every opportunity to use that story to get their foot in the door of government. We also leveraged that good story to find thought leadership opportunities, further spreading the Agnico story on the Canadian landscape.
Taking this approach was a departure for Agnico, which while being such a large gold producer was not as well known as other Canadian gold miners. Agnico’s approach was a modest one, as they were not looking to boast and take the “look at me” approach. Bluesky kept that in mind as we worked to tell Agnico’s story in a way that remained within that modest approach. This approach has made Agnico look even better in the eyes of government, as it speaks to a very Canadian approach.
Telling these proactive stories of Agnico helped to not only better inform Canadian politicians and the public about their operations and how they do business, it has helped to build trust with government institutions that has been valuable when issues have arisen. It’s helped to build a deeper, stronger relationship that has allowed Agnico to cut through some of the barriers that are naturally in the way of proponents and government. When Agnico had a vital water line permit waiting longer than normal for approval for one of their Nunavut operations, that work helped to get engagement from the relevant Ministers office to get action taken quickly.
Another example came when a workplace safety poster from one of their Nunavut operations started to circulate started to circulate on social media in the Arctic. The post used language that was called “colonial” and “insensitive,” telling workers to speak English in the workplace for safety in a location where the residents and majority of workers are Inuit and speak Inuktitut. It was an honest mistake, in keeping with territorial labour laws, but it spread very fast. It was out of character for Agnico, but that was widely known to be out of character because of the good reputation they had built. That reputation was further enhanced by Agnico’s lightning quick response to the social media posts, including directly to the individual resident who brought the poster to light. That response included a fulsome and unequivocal apology, an explanation of why that post was made, their pledge to remove them and redesign something that would meet the safety needs of the mine site in a culturally respectful way.
That fast and thoughtful response managed to turn what could have been a damaging story that undid a lot of goodwill in these small, tightknit communities and turned it into an example owning one’s mistakes and working to do better. By responding directly, publicly and transparently to the individual who raised the concern, they turned someone who could have been an enemy into an ally, garnering her public thanks for their response to this matter. That transparent and timely response was an opportunity to show that Agnico “walks the walk” that they professed. By doing so, they turned what could have become a negative mark against their reputation and improved their standing within the communities in which they work.
That standing and trust are vitally important in the mining sector, especially when faced with activists that wish to stop any and all projects in their tracks. Trust becomes a vital commodity and factor in determining if a project gets the green light or not. By acting proactively, transparently and publicly in these ways, companies are able to build that trust and show that they are not the bad guys that others might try to make them out to be.