Social licence to operate in mining

This project investigates how corporate social responsibility practices articulate and enact the legitimacy of extractive activities. It looks at company-community relations in Northwest Europe, especially regarding the social license to operate.

The Social License to Operate (SLO) is an emerging yet contested tool that extractive industries use to legitimize mining activities by engaging local communities. The SLO defines what levels and kinds of social and environmental harm are acceptable, what actions for compensation, presentation or restoration are appropriate, and how responsibilities for these actions are distributed between industry and community. However, critical scholarship has indicated that SLOs are often established in uneven power relationships between industry and community, privileging extractive industries over communities. This project studies how SLOs transform legitimacy structures and with what consequences for environment and community. The research draws on Actor Network Theory and political ecology to elucidate how SLOs are constituted and maintained in networked entanglements of societal and natural elements that are characterised by uneven power relationships. The research also investigates relations beyond the company-community binary by paying special attention to indigenous, natural, and cultural heritage on or near mining sites. The project uses a qualitative multi-case study approach, using various qualitative methodologies for data collection. Two case studies are selected: South Crofty mine (Cornwall, UK) and Frisia’s salt mine (Wadden Sea, the Netherlands).