Rachel Johnston - Walk the Talk?
Updated: May 12, 2022
A “just transition” from my social perspective is about treating impacted community stakeholders justly so that they don’t lose out and fairly so that they gain from the presence of the project.
I worked for several years in the humanitarian and development worlds where we struggled to assist families in sending their children to school, improve their nutrition and hygiene practices, access clean water etc…Then when I joined a mining services company that paid good salaries to their employees, I noted that the majority of employees did this naturally! They bought land, build homes, ensured the education and well-being of their children and extended family, in dignity and with respect. In countries where informal subsistence farming represents 98% of the working population, having regular employment is a huge positive impact that brings development to entire communities.
It is therefore with dread that I listen to talk of mining automation: although this represents technological breakthroughs and higher safety and production standards, it could mean even less employment for local communities, as well as purchasing specialised equipment from outside the country of operation. How can this be reconciled with the constant efforts of social teams to increase local content in jobs and procurement?
Mining companies continue to make decisions based on return to investors, whilst communities whose entire livelihoods have been disrupted (and not by choice) by the Project seem to always come in last place as a postscript rather than a key constituency driving investment and operational decisions. During construction when the mantra is “under time, under budget and without any Lost Time in Injury (LTI)” to operations disconnected from their surroundings, social indicators that would ensure a lasting positive legacy are too often ignored or misjudged.
Acting justly means the same consideration for all stakeholders during all phases of mining. Board directors and senior management need to inspire and exemplify a company culture where social performance is as important as safety and production, where a holistic approach is undertaken, and teamwork is encouraged so that words are translated into actions on the ground. With vision, forward thinking and planning, mining companies can be a real force for economic development in the countries where they operate and act justly and fairly in this transition to a greener economy.
Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire
Rachel is an independent sustainability consultant working in the extractive, agricultural and renewable energy sectors, based in Côte d’Ivoire. She assists companies in various ways to align with International Finance Corporation (IFC) performance standards. She has recently joined Caracal Gold as a Non-Executive Director and Chair of their ESG committee. Originally from the UK, she has lived in Francophone West Africa for almost 30 years. She started in the extractive sector over a decade ago as Administrative Director and then Chief Executive Officer of Sahara Geoservices, a mining services company for exploration based in Burkina Faso. Later, Rachel joined Truegold Mining as a Community Relations Consultant, and then Endeavour Mining Corporation as Site Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Manager in charge of the compensation and resettlement program at their Hounde Project. She then went on to become their Group CSR Manager with the mandate of driving sustainability performance monitoring, management and reporting across the group. Through these roles, she has gained hands-on experience of the social, environmental, administrative, government and labour relations issues that arise in the development and operation of projects in Africa.