Mining industry faces a struggle to win public hearts and minds

Job losses at Anglo American Platinum and Rio Tinto, as well as the possible liquidation of UK Coal, are just three incidents from recent weeks that highlight the headwinds facing the mining industry, with commodity prices remaining depressed. GlobeScan’s polling shows that the industry faces similar challenges connecting with the general public.
In most of the countries surveyed in our Radar global public attitudes tracking, majorities cannot name a single mining company they respect. To some degree this low public profile is offset in countries with national flagship mining companies, which are often cited as “most respected” by large proportions of respondents. For example, 53 percent of those in Nigeria point to NNPC, while 37 percent of Indonesians highlight Pertamina. Even so, BHP Billiton, a major player in Australia’s economically crucial mining industry, is cited by just one in four Australians (23%) as a respected mining company, and over half of Australians cannot name a mining company they respect.
The fact that the only company to be named by significant proportion of respondents in more than one country is Shell—which is not directly involved in mining—reinforces the impression that detailed awareness of the mining industry among the public is low. But people are far more willing to cite issues that the mining industry needs to address, suggesting interest exists. Over one in three among North Americans and Latin Americans (36% and 37% respectively) say the environment is the biggest issue for the industry to address, while 32 percent of North Americans and 17 percent of Europeans single out poor working conditions within the industry as being an area for improvement.

GlobeScan’s work with experts has shown repeatedly that mining is perceived as a “dirty” industry, responsible for significant environmental pollution, and the fact that so few can name a socially responsible mining company, while being keen to prescribe greater environmental emphasis, suggests this view abounds among the public. Mining remains an economically vital industry, but it will need to do more to communicate its value and its efforts to be more responsible to a poorly informed public if it is to renew its growth trajectory and secure its social licence to operate once harsh business conditions start to ease.

This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.