A Sustainable Approach to Community InvestmentMon, 10/21/2013 - 10:53
While most mining companies understand that building good relationships with communities is an essential and invaluable element of their mining projects, not all companies have been successful in establishing them in practice. The corporate social responsibility projects undertaken by AuRico Gold provide an example of the sustainable benefits that mining projects can bring to the surrounding communities.
The most noteworthy impact that AuRico projects are making is through the Productive Projects Fund, which creates local business opportunities through microinvestments. For Scott Perry, AuRico’s CEO and President, one of the company’s proudest achievements is a sewing cooperative it helped to set up with an ejido near its El Chanate operation in Sonora. “We have loaned them the startup capital to set up a small sewing factory and are training the ladies working there on how to make clothes for our mining operations, such as pants, business shirts, and safety vests, on a large scale,” explains Perry. The cooperative is by no means restricted to making clothes only for the company. The idea is that they build up skills and experience by making clothing for mine workers at AuRico, and then start supplying clothing to other mines in the region, with the possibility of branching out into other areas down the line, such as fashion. While this program has clear benefits for AuRico, its projects also support a number of initiatives that are not connected to the company’s core business or the mining industry in general. It has also set up and funded a farming cooperative, providing its electricity and water supply. “This project was started through the Technical Training College for Agriculture (CBTA), a local institution where young people study to become agronomists. They requested a piece of land from us, as well as some funds to start growing crops on the land. The program has been very successful, and they have already shipped watermelons to Japan in their first season,” says Luis Chávez Martínez, Senior Vice President Mexico of AuRico Gold. “Through these programs we offer loans, rather than handouts. Each project is intended to be productive and generate profit. The idea is for the beneficiaries of the project to take advantage of this opportunity in order to learn and become more productive; they know that they have to generate a profit in order to pay back the money they have borrowed, and this pushes them to succeed.” The company can then reinvest these funds in further projects, and ultimately the communities are in a stronger economic position than they were in before AuRico started its operations. AuRico Gold is acting on the belief that the greater the effort that is put into improving education and health in the communities, the better the quality of its staff and suppliers will be. The benefits are mutual: “We are a Canadian company and we usually buy our clothing from Canadian companies, which are expensive. We can now source these products from our local CSR initiative paying just a fifth of the price, while helping the cooperative to make a good profit and create a sustainable business,” emphasizes Perry.
Other CSR programs the company has put in place that are benefiting the local community include bringing in university students on summer placements, and three month truck operator training programs for local women. This latter project reflects the company’s broader commitment to equality across. “A lot of women work for us, and we are trying to achieve gender equality throughout the company and in all of our operations. This means no discrimination and equal treatment of everybody regardless of age, religion, and gender,” says Chávez Martínez. AuRico Gold plans to continue strengthening its relationships with staff and the members of the surrounding communities. “We are in the process of being certified as a Great Place to Work, and we should also achieve CSR certification soon, for the third year in a row,” says Chávez Martínez. “The process you have to follow to get any of these certifications is in itself very useful, it teaches us a lot of things.”