Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (Environmental Management)

School

School of Natural Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Professor PierreHorwitz

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Trudi Cooper

Abstract

This research investigated the boundaries of governance of social responsibility in three multinational mining organisations based in Perth, Western Australia. The mining industry has economic, environmental and social impacts, both positive and negative. While most of the attention of the media and supporters in government seems to focus on the positive impacts, a growing concern regarding the social implications of mining is clearly evident in public discourse and the academic literature. In response to public concern, the mining industry has adopted terms such as ‘sustainability’, ‘sustainable development’, ‘social licence to operate’ and ‘social responsibility’. Such phrases are widely used in annual reports and public statements. It seems reasonable then to expect that organisations in the industry would be managing the social impacts of mining with the same diligence that is applied to economic and environmental impacts. However the governance of social impacts and the social responsibilities of mining organisations have historically been managed reactively, rather than proactively, or have not been addressed at all. This study used phenomenological research methods to examine the perceptions of the people who are at the forefront of decision making for social responsibility in the mining industry: the managers in mining companies. The findings detail different conceptions of social responsibility, and how these affected governance and boundaries. The term ‘boundaries’ is used here to express what participants perceived as the limits of their organisation’s social responsibility. The thesis explores whether boundary setting was formal or informal, how boundaries were defined and under what conditions they changed. The research confirmed that terms such as ‘sustainable development’ were used widely; however the meanings attributed to these often obscured the narrow conception of the terms. This interpretation aligned with an organisationally strategic approach to social responsibility that primarily aimed to benefit the organisation, while the provision of benefits to other parties was a secondary consideration. The research found that the perceived level of risk to the organisation was most influential in defining boundaries, and risk itself was in a constant state of flux based on changing economic and social circumstances and changing perceptions. The findings showed that the organisations governed social responsibility to reduce risk to the organisation, and construed their social responsibilities through narrow interpretations of sustainability and sustainable development that foregrounded the organisation, rather than as a way to effectively and systematically reduce the negative impacts of mining on society or to contribute to sustainability in a broader sense.

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