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Can robots deliver a social licence?

Companies embracing automation and technological innovation must be also be aware of the possible implications for their social licence to operate, according to a social performance specialist.

Dr Ceit Wilson, who has more than eight years of professional experience in addressing the social and development challenges of the extractive resources industry, says there are risks around the future of technology and employment, especially from a social perspective.

Dr Wilson will address the issue in a presentation at this year’s International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne in October – Australia’s largest mining event.

Issues around social licence to operate and sustainable mining principles will be a key focus for the three-day conference with a dedicated workshop and two conference sessions covering the topic.

Environmental health and safety, social licence, sustainability, staff retention and skills development are also among the topics set to be discussed in the free to attend Collaboration Theatre, one of five concurrent conferences at IMARC.

“I intend to use my presentation at IMARC to bring attention to the fact that the while the mining industry is positively benefiting from automation and technology innovation, we need to address the question of how technological change will impact the host communities in which they operate,” Dr Wilson said.

“This is somewhat of a paradox given that gaining and maintaining a ‘social licence to operate’ is one of the key challenges currently facing the sector.

“We know it is no longer enough for mining companies to simply meet the formal obligations of an ‘environmental licence’ to extract resources.

“They are increasingly expected to behave responsibly and make a positive contribution to the communities in which they operate.

“One of the main ways mining companies seek to deliver this social value to regional communities is through the provision of local employment and business development opportunities.

“The concern is that automation technology may disrupt this positive trend. We are already seeing major mine operations in Western Australia and Queensland replacing human operators with autonomous trucks and robotics, and shifting control centres to the capital cities, miles away from where actual mining takes place.

“And yet industry has been silent on the potential risks that these future technologies may pose for communities and broader stakeholders.

“Disregarding these risks may leave companies ill equipped to respond to social impacts when they occur, with potential consequences for their relationship and trust with communities.

“Any company that is genuinely committed to protecting their social licence to operate will need to carefully consider and reassess how their projects will continue to deliver social value to the regional communities in which they operate if, as a result of automation, local employment and procurement opportunities are no longer as readily available.

“Maintaining a social licence will require balance and attention to alternative ways in which social value can be delivered.

“This may include a consideration of alternative livelihood or benefit sharing models, or a greater focus on the transfer and sharing of industry’s knowledge of technology through training and education programs.”

The International Mining and Resources Conference will be held from the October 29-31 at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. For more information please visit https://imarcmelbourne.com

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