Exploring the origins of ‘social license to operate’ in the mining sector: Perspectives from governance and sustainability theories
In the mining sector, local communities have emerged as particularly important governance actors. Conventional approaches to mineral development no longer suffice for these communities, which have demanded a greater share of benefits and increased involvement in decision making. These trends have been spurred by the growth of the sustainable development paradigm and governance shifts that have increasingly transferred governing authority towards non-state actors. Accordingly, there is now widespread recognition that mineral developers need to gain a ‘social license to operate’ (SLO) from local communities in order to avoid potentially costly conflict and exposure to social risks. A social license can be considered to exist when a mining project is seen as having the ongoing approval and broad acceptance of society to conduct its activities. Due to the concept's relatively recent emergence, however, only a limited body of scholarship has developed around SLO. Drawing on examples from northern Canada, this paper uses governance and sustainability theories to conceptualize the origins of SLO in the mining sector and describe some of the associated implications. Further research is needed to determine governance arrangements which help facilitate establishment of SLO in different mineral development contexts.
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