Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shared Responsibility or self-preservation; Corporate social responsibility and nationalization and the Mining Industry

“Men and women from all nations share the same global address – we all live on the same planet, with its finite land masses, bodies of water, and other resources. The stewardship of our planet is a responsibility which transcends boundaries, continents, and peoples. The stewardship of human rights, of intrinsic values (such as freedoms, peace, sustainable human and environmental “health”), are also responsibilities which cross boundaries. Ultimately, these are responsibilities which can, potentially, lead to mutual recognition and cooperation between peoples, or which can lead to distrust, disunification, dysfunction, conflict, and destruction…

Our interdependent future requires recognition of common denominators, including the sovereignty, independence, and mutual-inter-dependence of each state, the acknowledgement of basic values and rights which are universal, the embedding of  principles upholding the security and sustainability of our mutual “global” rights and freedoms (including economic, educational, environmental, peripheral factors, and other inclusive global conditions of peace and security).

If a group insists that its sovereign or corporate rights, its path to self-determination includes the abrogation of the rights of others, then, perhaps that group is traveling down the “pathway” towards the obsolescence of its own existence—particularly in an increasingly global environment. Conditions leading toward peaceful coexistence, sustainable and inclusive markets, social/political actions, and collective relations should not command the thoughts or activities of others, but, perhaps, only prohibit the commission of those actions which would infringe upon the global rights of yet a third group of “others.”

And it is from this vantage point that we see the viability and necessity of addressing the integration of concepts of personal, corporate, and state responsibility into our fundamental strategies, operations, cultures—and consider concrete cases and specific problems of development, including nationalization, and the sustainability of crucial infrastructures or industries. The answers to these challenges present unparalleled opportunities to uphold and respect the sovereignty of those individuals, groups, and international alliances mutually inhabiting this globe, with its limited space, and finite resources—and its multiple possible patterns of intellectual (or political) development .

The definition and amelioration of “root causes” of social, economic, educational and environmental progress, and of the concomitant threat of degradation of these factors, must remain a participative responsibility in any society, local, national, or global, which wishes its policies and practices to have relevance for its citizenry, resilience to meet its challenges, and widest possible/holistic implementation of those disciplines and principles, strategies and cultures which will enable us to achieve the highest possible levels of sustainable performance and peace.”[1]

We are now at a crossroads in our development. The advent of broadband and other global communications networks, the linking of common markets, the technologies permitting the free physical/intellectual movement and exchange of people, goods, services, capital, and intellectual or creative property/common concepts have ushered in unparalleled opportunities, and challenges, to build a shared, sustainable future.

Fundamental, and in some cases, almost overwhelming shifts are underway in world politics, culture, religions, economics. The necessity for responsible action, for choices which can maintain transparency; principles of anti-corruption; human rights; environmental, humanitarian and specific labor-force stewardship, is inescapable.

And the social and political will to safeguard existing freedoms, legitimate economic growth (the greatest degree of legitimate market freedoms for the greatest number of legitimate market participants and the voiceless global environment must accompany our efforts to develop a collective stewardship of our shared planet.[2]

Without leadership, trusted sources of information, and collaborative protocols to ensure transparency, anti-corruption, fair/safe labor practices, and opportunities, however, sustainable development, indeed, the security of states, communities and individuals, are at risk. Inclusive strategies to define and implement our shared responsibilities to meet the social, political and economic challenges of our increasingly global existence can benefit societies and economies around the world.

The UN Global Compact is such an initiative. Endorsed by chief executives, with over 8700 corporate participants and other stakeholders from over 130 countries, the Global Compact is a practical framework for the development, implementation, and disclosure of sustainability policies and practices. Increasingly, business participants are recognizing the need for collaborative infrastructure and corporate development, collaborative consumption, and partnership with governments, civil society, labor, and the United Nations (to list the most central of “trusted broker” entities).

“[T]he Global Compact exists to assist the private sector in the management of increasingly complex risks and opportunities in the environmental, social and governance realms, seeking to embed markets and societies with universal principles and values for the benefit of all”[3]

As a specific effort, the Extrative Industries Transparency Initiative ( ) is a coalition of governments, companies, and civil societies joined in an effort to make natural resources of benefit for all. Working to set a global standard for transparency in fuel and resource mining, members have worked from their 12 EITI Principles (established in 2003) to affirm that management of natural resource wealth for the benefit of a country’s citizens is the domain of sovereign governments, but that, in seeking solutions, “all stakeholders have important and relevant contributions to make—including governments and their agencies, extractive industry companies, service companies, multilateral organisations, financial organisations, investors, and non-governmental organisations.” EITI participants “share a belief that the prudent use of natural resource wealth should be an important engine for sustainable economic growth that contributes to sustainable development and poverty reduction, but if not managed properly, can create negative economic and social impacts.”[4]

Scholars of economic development can trace the hazards of inviting “investors” and “donors” to share costs and corporate decision-making with the sovereign governments and industries party to any “joint venture,” including mining/extractive operations. Rich in subterranean resources, African nations are beginning to enjoy what the World Bank has forecasted can be a multi-year expansion of economies by 5% or more annuallyContrasts between the rapidly-expanding economies of Africa, Asia and Latin America (based in no small part upon mining/extractives industries and resource assets) and the financially struggling economies of North America and Europe will intensify, according to most financial and investment experts. (,,contentMDK:21848549~menuPK:5242459~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:336930,00.html )

Without appropriate stewardship of the resource/mining assets of developing nations, the profit-driven exploitation of investment returns, especially in mining and export of metals, minerals, and fuels, could unbalance the value-chain of commodity and resource production, to the detriment of the citizens of each resource-rich sovereign nation, and the collective citizenry of our interdependent planet.

Established mining and trading companies are attempting to maintain their long-term contractual obligations upon the emergent/developing markets. Competition from established European, Anglo-Australian and other mining conglomerates is being met by the apparent geo-strategic move of Asian mining, production and investment giants.

“Beijing’s equity is welcome and global companies have moved to invite Chinese companies into their operations as joint-venture partners…” says Sanusha Naidu, research director of the China in Africa Project with the NGO, Fahamu. “But the market share still lies with western global-resource companies like Rio Tinto and Anglo American when it comes to supply and determining the pricing index.”[5]

Anthony Goldman, head of London-based PM Consulting, posits that increased global competition and scrutiny of resources,  financial responsibilities, and shareholder practices have created a new dynamic in the previously muddy ground of mining industries. “Opacity adds layers that allow for greater flexibility when it comes to political pariahs, or sanctions, or questionable sources. [Now the need for capital] outweighs the need for discretion.”[6]  Or corruption, as the case may be.

In any corporate practice, transparency is only one factor in ensuring the principles of responsible and sustainable market and holistic development. Local citizens, especially those in underserved, under-educated communities in developing nations, have not possessed the access, tools, or even concepts of ownership which would empower them to hold investors, donors, and governments accountable for the stewardship of assets and development of sustainable infrastructures. Natural resources, mined commodities have a far greater threshold of visibility, however. Citizens can more clearly see what is produced, and demand their fair share of the limited precious resources buried beneath our planet’s surface, within the boundaries of each specific sovereign nation.

But reforms are hard-won, and accountabilities which exist to protect shareholders and citizens of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange, for example, do not yet exist in European or Asian stock exchanges.[7]

In theory, developing countries with their own natural resources might not need the foreign investment of partner extractives/mining corporations. Accepting joint venture or corporate loans creates an imbalance of costs and profits of production, with these now-debtor resource-rich nations being forced to divert at least part of their production to export sales merely to pay interest on loans, or operational costs of foreign-held industries. And the lion’s share of profits, of interest in corporate assets, and, effectively, assets from sales of mined resources, remain within the closed ranks of majority-shareholders in companies which established contractual strangleholds on the natural resources of the citizens of each resource-rich nation, of the collective citizenry of our interdependent planet, decades or even centuries ago.

And such vested interests seem loath to adapt the reforms urged by citizens, communities, the EITI, the UN, sovereign governments, and socially-responsible NGOs, corporations, and other stakeholders.

For example, mining in South Africa has been the central impetus to the development of Africa’s wealthiest and most advanced economy. The discovery of a diamond on the banks of the Orange River in 1867 marked the commencement of the hugely profitable (for the owners) diamond and gold mining industries in South Africa. Currently, South Africa is the world’s largest producer of chrome, manganese, platinum, varandium and vermiculite.  The second-largest producer of minerals including palladium and zirconium, South Africa is also the world’s third-largest exporter of coal. ( )

South Africa takes a clear position of prominence among nations blessed with a cornucopia of the limited natural resources available on our shared globe. Julius Malema , the leader of the youth arm of South Africa’s ruling political party (the African National Congress, or ANC), has urged the official debate of nationalization. In 2010, the ANC agreed.

For the moment, however, it appears that the scheduled Spring, 2012, debate over the nationalization of the South African mining industry has been pre-empted by a decision announced by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu. “The youth league, informed by challenges of poverty, challenges of unemployment amongst the young people and pressures of needs and people seeing democracy but not being able to tangibly benefit from that, they think that one aspect is to nationalize the mines.”

However, “Government policy is clear: it’s a mixed economy; the state will participate in the sector, but we will not nationalize,”Shabangu said. “We can’t say [calls for nationalization] at the end will influence or formulate policy… it must be discussed and that debate must go on sensibly,” Shabangu stated, in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York, in March, 2011. According to Cynthia Carroll, chief executive officer of the London-based mining company Anglo American Plc (AAL) , South Africa’s largest private employer, operating in South Africa since 1917, said that supporters of nationalization are “advocating the road to ruin,” and that mining companies won’t invest unless their assets are ‘secure.’

Under current “black-empowerment legislation,” mining companies have a 2014 deadline to ensure that black investors have a 26% interest in mining companies’ South African assets. According to an ANC Youth League policy document, the state should own at least 60% of all the country’s mining assets (mineral reserves in South Africa are estimated at over $2.5 trillion).[8]

Mineral and natural resources are assets held within the sovereign territories of each nation’s boundaries. In the political, economic, and environmental realities of our increasingly interdependent planet, it is crucial that the environmental, engineering, and corporate/industrial community integrate sustainability in dealing with the technical, economic, social, political and environmental issues of today and of our shared future. Mining and extractive assets are as limited, and, arguably, fragile in quantity and quality as the Earth’s resources of air and water.

And like air and water, international issues of collaborative consumption, waste and watershed management, bio-system and human safety and preservation, and strong local-community based initiatives are required to enable individuals and communities to support the sustainable infrastructure development policies and practices of their leaders and governments.

Air and water know few boundaries, but subterranean mineral assets can be considered a birth right, prized by those inhabitants born in areas of provenance over those natural resources. Realistically, some profits must be earned by production-end corporations, or the costs of business become onerous. Ethically, depriving fellow humans of a sustainable, decent living in order to control the flow of profits based upon outdated, often unfair contractual agreements wrested decades or centuries ago, from leaders of an under-served population, must be considered unsustainable, and out of keeping with our more inclusive understanding of universal human rights and global infrastructural responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Transparency and debate are not magic bullets for violations of the UN Global Compact’s ten principles ( ) in the areas of human rights, labor, anti-corruption and the environment. Collaborative corporate/social responsibility and principles of collaborative consumption cannot erase past depredations, nor ensure the embracing of a set of core values which would ameliorate or preclude future irresponsibilities in mining/extractives, or corporate developmental practices in general.

The 2011 UN Global Compact states that “embedding principles and responsibility into the marketplace is an essential part of the solution [to address challenges to global integration, sustainable development, protection of our planet, and, ultimately, peace].

Natural resources on our shared planet are, by definition, limited. Businesses and governments should support and respect the protection and continuation of internationally proclaimed human rights, environmental rights, and attendant issues of sustainable co-existence. Tolerance, respect, and stewardship are a sine qua non of peaceful interdependence in an increasingly global community.

Any debate on natural resources, human/biosphere preservation and sustainability and nationalization must include the responsible recognition, discussion, support and enactment of these issues. 

[1] Michele Comment, “An overview of social and political communities, disenfranchisement, and social and financial infrastructures,” An Ethical consideration of Terrorism, Introduction, pp. x-xvi; M.A. Thesis, Vermont College of Norwich University, 1993.
[2] Michele Comment, “Conditions for Peace: Secure, Sustainable, Stable Development – in an Increasingly Global Community,” op.cit., pp. 25 – 34.
[3] “A more detailed analysis of the benefits of participation in the Global Compact can be found in The Importance of Voluntarism — which also focuses on the importance of the Global Compact as a complement rather than substitute for regulatory regimes” in
[4] EITI Principles # 2, 12 and 1, , 2003
[6] The Africa Report, February 2011, op. cit.
[7] 2010 passage of the US Dodd-Frank act contained the first-ever “publish what you pay” law, empowering “millions of people by giving them access to the information they need to hold their leaders accountable, demanding greater social and economic results, and reducing levels of corruption.” From: “Transparency will ensure Ugandans benefit from their oil”, Winnie Ngabiiwe and Joe Powell, 11 March, 2011,
[8] South Africa Won’t Nationalize its Mining Industry, Minister Shabangu Says” by Simon Casey, , , 10 March, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011


Politics is the process through which people arrive at consensus, and make collective decisions. Ideally, politics proceeds without violence, corruption, or the enforced silencing of opposition views, since in the marketplace of ideas and shared value of humanity, the art and science of running a government or community ought to enable the tolerance (if not shared views) and peaceful coexistence of all within the collective state.
Justice is the concept of fairness, rationality, ethics, blind to the prejudice of emotional, visceral, violent response to reason. Punishment for breaches of "justice" must also be grounded in the same ethical construct, or they become exclusive to a ruling party, and not representational of, or fairly shared with, the "others" of humanity.
According to Aristotle, "the law is reason, free from passion."
And Peace, the absence of hostility; people, communities, societies existing harmoniously, with tolerance for the panoply of their voices and celebration of healing and healthy interpersonal and international relationships. Peace implies the acknowledgement of equality and fairness, justice, in individual, political, international relationships.
Peace can be a oft-repeated verbal response, but should be more than a greeting or a farewell; peace should be more than a seasonal expression of goodwill.
Peace is vibrant, not stagnant, and must be responsive to evolving needs and realities of growing, and learning, populations. Peace should be a cornerstone of reflections and relationships, the presence of balance, the absence of suppression, oppression, quiet without silence, collaboration without control, choice freely presented, and sustainably maintained.
Can peace exist without politics?
But, more, can politics sustainably exist without peace?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shared Value and homelessness

People and programs which work with communities to develop, focus, produce and replicate solutions to the social, infrastructure, and health challenges that face local communities worldwide are playing a critical role in finally addressing pressing community-level challenges. Many compelling issues have been recognized, and solutions successfully implemented, by social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations and volunteers working within at-risk communities, and with the homeless who live alongside “established” communities.
Around the world, expert and developing Social Innovators and volunteers, who are parts of each community, can add fresh understanding and practical approaches which can greatly inform and enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of community solutions. Vehicles for funding, mentorship, and inclusion, nonprofit, funding, tech/sponsorship organizations can all benefit from increased impact, and elevated outcomes, when collaborating transparently with community-based participants, working directly on approaches and achievements in areas critical to those communities.
Homelessness affects all strata of society, from attendant health issues, youth-inclusion vs. alienation issues, economic opportunity vs. privation issues, safety/crime/representation issues, and most areas of sustainable infrastructure, whether through services, or use of the existing structures and “amenities” of the community and larger regional and national societies. Homelessness is not restricted to, or defined by, culture, economic origin, ability or achievement level, language, or age. Homelessness crosses boundaries of education, prior opportunity, and the exigencies of crisis, conflict, and corruption.
The escalation, deprivation, and isolation of the homeless are becoming increasingly visible reminders of the dysfunctions of societal “bridges” which had been the sole remedies of “care” for those outside the intersection of society and economic/corporate sustainability. Those at or beyond the periphery of social inclusion, the homeless, must still be recognized as part of our shared responsibility, as a human society, to address the needs, as sufficiently as possible, of all, regardless of previous perceptions of boundaries, proprieties, or protocols.
Opportunities have always existed to address the sometimes glaringly obvious inadequacies and deficiencies of social remedies; with the advent of informed, digitally-connected, and globally-linked individual and community Social Innovators, unparalleled opportunities to address the needs and challenges of homelessness, to address the soundless and sightless isolation of poverty, powerlessness, and debilitating marginalization which paralyze those caught in the webs of homelessness.
More than sharing recognition of homelessness, beyond sharing responsibility for individual, community, and societal efforts to mitigate, if not prevent, the causes and effects of homelessness, the time is right to move beyond vicarious, blanket solutions which have masqueraded as the “best possible” redress for the ills of homelessness and societal dysfunction. It is time to recognize the shared value available to each of us, to all of us, in investing in a sustainable future, where the inclusion of all members of a community becomes a focus, and not an eventuality.
Given the infinite variability of life, choice, chance, and caprice, it is likely that no panacea for the chimera of homelessness can exist. But our increased connectivity has highlighted the huge potential for accommodation of the specific needs of the homeless in a “community.” Concomitantly, increased globalization, while emphasizing our interdependence, has also increased our ability to approach the challenges from the flexible and responsive wellspring of community-based Innovators and Volunteers, especially when transparently augmented and supported by intermediaries (nonprofits, foundations, ngo and governmental organizations, health organizations, corporate and technological sponsors, educators and mentors).
Social Innovators , working with efforts like the “Its time for community challenge” ( celebrate our shared purpose, to alleviate the horrors of homelessness, to address the root causes and effects, and to provide sustainable, expandable solutions to homelessness.
More than a social cost, social innovation becomes an investment. More than a necessity, addressing the problems of homelessness becomes an opportunity. And more than a responsibility, the systematic evaluation, effort and effectiveness to produce transformative results, and transparent evaluation, replication, and continuation of programs presenting a major change/improvement in life and life outcomes for homeless individuals and communities becomes a shared value. Shared value, which can ultimately enhance our shared, interlinked future.