No industry can afford to exist within the confines of its own specialist bubble. Mining companies are part and parcel of Finnish society, with numerous groups affected by their activities: employees, subcontractors, residents of nearby areas, holiday home owners, environmentalists, metal refiners, providers of technology and services, educational and research institutions, financiers, the authorities, other industries, politicians, the media… The list is endless.
Contact with people is valuable and important, whether in one’s private life or at work. Contact builds trust and helps us understand one another. We have held discussions with mining companies and their stakeholders and listened to what they have to say. Regardless of backgrounds, viewpoints and personal opinions, everyone has emphasised the need for and the benefits of regular contact and discussion.
However, it is still true that the mining sector and many of its stakeholders too often only come together through permit processes, complaints and statements, or via the media. In some cases, the situation boils over and conflicts arise. Once this has happened, demonstrations, on-line debates or the social media sites become the only places where people meet. Such grounds for contact and discussion are rarely fertile for co-operation.
“Interaction solely through written statements or the media tends to escalate tensions.” I think that this comment by Peltonen and Kangasoja in the article “Konfliktien kartoitus suunnittelun apuvälineenä”, (Understanding conflicts as a tool to help planning), published in the journal Yhdyskuntasuunnittelu (vol. 47:4, 2009), is right to the point. When tensions reach the crisis threshold, discussions lead nowhere. In such cases, everyone digs in their heels.
In the mining sector as well, typical forums for stakeholders to meet each other include seminars, workshops and fairs. There is one event almost every week – some say too often. They include seminars that are free-of-charge, admission fee-based, open or by invitation only. Some of these are intended for a certain group of participants only.
Because different types of seminars attract different audiences, only some but not all stakeholders actually meet each other at such events. For instance, mining companies, research institutions, universities and students typically meet in workshops organised by universities or interest groups. The mining industry and its service providers, financiers and the authorities meet for example in commercial seminars. Representatives from the academic world, the tourism sector, reindeer owners, the Saami people or NGOs rarely attend these events, whereas representatives of mining companies do not attend the other types of meetings, except as speakers. Just try bringing people together on this basis!
On the other hand, many organisers of seminars, workshops and other meetings really do make an effort to provide room and opportunities for different stakeholders to meet each other. One can unite a diverse panel by including representatives of different interest groups, such as the Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, the media, mining industry and consultants. However, this is not always that easy.
Of course, attempts are made to organise meetings of various types: representatives of a range of stakeholders are included on the steering groups of research projects or programmes led by the authorities, and residents’ meetings, open days or co-operation groups are organised locally. Discussions take place, but often only “within a circle of acquaintances”. Very few events are held where all the stakeholders are present and can discuss issues directly with each other.
Everyone finds discussions and meetings useful and important, but developing co-operation and dialogue is not easy. That is why the mining industry and its stakeholders want to develop long-term constructive co-operation based on genuine points of contact, and free from outside conflicts. The Network for Sustainable Mining has been established for this purpose. We sincerely hope that everyone involved joins in. I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity, together with my team, to support this work.