Industry Perspectives Vary on Implementing Effective Social Performance
By Chris Carpenter, JPT Technology Editor
SPE members are familiar with the application within their industry of the term “social responsibility.” But what of the term “social performance?” In the context of a globalized economy in which the decisions of multinational corporate and state actors have a more immediate effect on individual lives than ever before, social performance is the translation of an organization’s policy of responsibility into ground-level action. A growing body of work, including papers written by SPE members, explores the theoretical and practical challenges faced by the industry as it attempts to translate its obligations into effective policies. While obstacles will always exist and individual situations will always require flexibility, optimism persists that theory can become a reality that solidifies the connections between individuals, their communities, and the presence of upstream facilities.
Almost every multinational company now issues annual reports evaluating social performance, attempting to quantify such factors as proper resource investment, diversification of employment, and local sustainability. But as Luc Zandvliet of Triple R Alliance asserts, many industry leaders are still limited by a consideration of social performance “as a slightly unfamiliar topic that is unrelated to business objectives” and that they hold the inaccurate view that, because the task “only deals with people’s behavior, it is often unpredictable, if not at times outright irrational, and therefore difficult to manage.” Zandvliet, author of SPE paper 185211 (2017), “Asset-Level Social Performance in Conflict Areas and Frontier Markets: Doable or Doomsday Scenario?” proposes that companies actually have more influence over their management of risk and their role in community relationships than they often believe. An initial problem, he writes, is that too many companies entrust evaluations and analyses of regional or local conflict to specialized departments, thereby implicitly freeing other staff members—many of whom have more immediate knowledge of developing conflicts or community requests—from the responsibility of what should be a companywide effort. He points out that companies have far more international and professional resources with which to evaluate such situations than they did only a few years ago.
Zandvliet suggests that problems caused by initial faulty analysis of specific areas of contention between companies and communities are often exacerbated by fairly routine or avoidable personnel- or PR-related mistakes that, in other parts of the world, may not seem remarkable but which may be particularly sensitive in some areas long plagued by neglect or by mismanagement by multinational actors. Finally, he offers a six-step “model toward a conflict-sensitive business approach” that he argues can help facilities and communities reach common goals in a proactive style—rather than the reactive one often seen in headlines—with peaceful and mutually beneficial results, even in traditionally conflict-plagued areas.