Effectively Engaging with Communities

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 10:58

The Canadian mining company New Gold has one property in Mexico, the Cerro San Pedro mine in San Luis Potosi. While the company is fiercely committed to its corporate social responsibility strategy on all of its mines across the Americas, it is particularly proud of the relationship it has built with the communities surrounding the Cerro San Pedro mine, given its location in a relatively populated area. “Unlike other mines that are in the middle of nowhere, this mine is located not only very close to the colonial town of Cerro San Pedro, but also very close to the capital city of San Luis Potosi. There are around 4,500 inhabitants and 13 communities that are spread out in the region surrounding the mine, and those are the main stakeholders. “People do not like having an open pit mine 15km from their house, which explains why there was originally some resistance to the mine,” says Armando Ortega, VP of New Gold and Director General of MSX. The company today enjoys a very good relationship with its surrounding communities, which for Ortega has been possible thanks to its genuine commitment to its corporate responsibility schemes, the good they have brought the communities, and the way the company has communicated with them. “This is a question of perseverance, resilience, and discipline. If you are simply doing something like reforestation for the sake of a photo session, your intentions would be obvious to everyone,” he argues. “In terms of the community relationships it is about having real presence and constant contact, in order to effectively nurture the needs of those communities.” An integral part of the company’s communication strategy in this area has been the 90 video clips that it has produced and aired through the local television network, telling the story of the mine through its people. “We use our videos as a means to ensure a bond of pride and commitment in our workforce, and also in our community,” says Ortega.

The company has undertaken a number of different projects that address the many different needs of the communities surrounding Cerro San Pedro, such as organizing a reforestation day every year, being an equal opportunity employer, and investing in environmental and infrastructure works. On all of these projects New Gold is very much focused on ensuring that the legacy it leaves will bring benefits for the community long after the mine has closed. “The important question is always: what is it that we can offer to the community, including our workers and other stakeholders, after the mine has closed? We need to define what the legacy will be together, and ensure that we are not just imposing our vision of what the legacy should look like on them. The most important legacy for the community is a feasible future. Our workers need to have transferable skills, so that when there is no mine to work in anymore, other industries that come into the area and employ them,” says Ortega. In order to get closer to the community New Gold has also introduced a grievance system, through which the company learns about the queries, concerns, and complaints that the community has regarding the mine. “The system was put in place almost three years ago, and it has served not only to learn more about the needs and concerns of our people, but in some instances it has also been a forum in which people have been able to present whistle blower complaints against a contractor, for example,” explains Ortega. “People know that if they were to present a complaint, or put forward a question about water or water quality, it would be heard and the company would be held accountable.”

These elements have combined to make Cerro San Pedro a very positive addition to the local community, and something that both New Gold and the community can be proud of. “We are satisfied because our communities are proud of the mine,” says Ortega. “It is not only because they are directly or indirectly connected to the mine, but because the mine has proven to be a good citizen.”