A rose by any other name: “Social Licence”

A rose by any other name: “Social Licence”

For years now, I have felt uncomfortable with the term “social licence”.  I have felt that it was being misused and misappropriated. In my mind “Social Licence” or Corporate Social Responsibility is a Euphamism or Jargon that is used in place of the correct over arching term of Human Rights.

These terms are ‘too vague to be useful in academic debate or in corporate implementation’. (Van Marrewijk 2003)

Infact, the Minerals Council of Australia said “…[s]imply  defined the ‘social licence to operate’ is an unwritten social contract…” (Hooke 2005, p. 1)

I believe that it is, in fact, not unwritten – it is written in black and white in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and is explicit in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – the problem is that it IS unwritten in Australian Law.

The way “Social License” is handled by our Government and the Gas Industry is a way of dancing around and avoiding the elephant in the room which is – without a Human Rights Act that requires the Government and Businesses to consider human rights issues in decision making instead of allowing economics primacy, ‘social licence’ will continue to be used as a nebulous intangible term that continues to fail the people impacted by these industries. One that is predominantly presented as cash donations.  It will keep the decision making terms of references in the economic realm instead of the human realm where it belongs.

By leaving ‘social licence’ without the black and white of the human rights legislation, it remains a tool used by the resources industry and its proponents as a sword appropriated by them, wielded by them, under their terms and the people once again left to defend themselves under what is effectively friendly fire.

Infact, the human rights version of ‘social licence’ is REALLY – simply doing the right thing even when no-one is looking – now, how does the government and gas industry feel about THAT definition ? (Anonymous)


Gunningham, N, Kagan, RA & Thornton, D 2002, Social Licence and Environmental Protection: why businesses go beyond compliance, Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics and Political Science, London.
Hooke, MH 2005, Minerals Council of Australia Submission to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Inquiry into Indigenous Employment, 2 December . Retrieved July 19, 2006, from www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/atsia/indigenousemployment/subs/sub118.pdf
Van Marrewijk, M 2003, ‘Concepts and definitions of CSR and corporate sustainability: Between agency and communion’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 44, no. 2/3, p. 95. Retrieved June 22, 2006, from ProQuest database.
Thomas, G, Nowak, M, Corporate Social Responsibility: A definition.  Working Paper Series No. 62 (Curtin University of Technology, Graduate School of Business)

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