INVESTMENTS by big mining companies in their communities are often "disconnected from community needs, reactive and ad hoc", a study of miners' corporate social responsibility policies has found.
The study by University of Melbourne researcher Dr Sara Bice found that while mining companies' investments in community infrastructure were often well-intentioned, they often had unforeseen and undesirable consequences.
"Mining companies are pumping millions of dollars into certain remote towns," Dr Bice said.
"But as mining booms, ports expand and exports increase, these communities are facing an identity crisis.
"Communities are often given money for infrastructure or projects they don't want or need, while some organisations are becoming dangerously reliant on the miners' money."
Dr Bice analysed mining investments in two leading regional mining towns which relied on the resources industry in the local economy.
She said the findings for her study raised the question of whether such investments, which promoted "sustainability", were actually sustainable, including if local associations became dependent on miners' dollars.
"The mining companies all want to be prominent in town, so certain organisations have learnt to 'play' one company off against another to garner funding or services," Dr Bice said.
"Companies and communities are in complex relationships.
"Many companies try to do the right thing without realising that well-meaning CSR programs can create a troubling dependency over the long-term."
Dr Bice's study was based on mining companies' corporate social responsibility reports over five years, interviews with 11 senior mining managers and two remote mining towns.
It found some community organisations in towns where multiple mining corporations maintained a presence often felt pressure to "align" with one company, while other institutions were able to "leverage" companies to achieve a greater benefit.
Dr Bice said while miners were often leaders in corporate social responsibility, more work was needed to improve companies' understanding of long-term community development, including where and how money should be spent.
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