Rathdowney Resources Sets Out Its Stall For Good Community Relations In Poland

Monday, 26 January, 2015

“We have extensive ongoing stakeholder engagement”, says Dave Copeland.

He’s speaking in this particular instance as the chairman of Rathdowney Resources, a Canadian company with a zinc development in Poland. But as a long-standing director of the well-known mining incubator Hunter Dickinson, and with more than 30 years experience in the mining industry, he knows that it’s about more than just specifics.

“For us it’s a philosophical issue”, he says. “It’s all about engaging with communities and making sure they know what we’re about.”

In the case of Rathdowney it’s particularly important because although the Upper Silesia region of Poland has had plenty of experience of mining in the past, much of it was done under the auspices of the former Soviet-backed regime. Not all of the memories are good.

“We’re a new company in an old mining community”, says Dave. “Historically this was a command economy, and there was not a lot of attention paid to social and environmental concerns. Mining to the locals means a smelter and a processing facility and a historical legacy of lead poisoning throughout the region. But we will only do mining and the processing of concentrate. There will be no smelter.”

That’s an important distinction to convey, and Rathdowney has spared no effort in its efforts to communicate and open dialogue with the communities around its Olza project.

“We have held over 2,000 meetings with local communities”, says Dave. “And one-to-one meetings with landowners. We’ve held townhall meetings attended by as many as 150 people”, says Dave.

The types of issues that get raised varies. “The great majority are just curious about what we do”, says Dave. “That’s why they show up. It’s practical questions – when will you start mining and how many will you hire? Water is also a big concern. They want to know that we will look after it. They want reassurances that there is no threat to the water table.”

And there’s also a certain new assertiveness from the locals that might not have been apparent 30 years ago, when General Jaruzelski was still in charge.

“This is a new Poland”, says Rathdowney’s chief executive Robert Konski, himself a Pole. “They want to make sure that we hear what they want to say. As Dave says, it’s a philosophical issue.”

But it’s not just about talk. Rathdowney has also provided tangible assistance in many ways.

“We’ve supported a host of local initiatives”, says Robert. “We’ve provided a computer for a school, funded a scholarship, provided instruments for a school band, and funded a fishing prize. We’ve got a wall of thankyou notes. So even though we haven’t earned a dime yet in Poland, we’ve spent quite a lot of money and we’re very well regarded by the local communities.”

Longer-term the company plans to spend more too. But much depends on how much progress can be made at Olza, and how rapidly. To that end, the company is moving towards a preliminary economic assessment, the results of which will become known fairly soon.

“There is an expectation of a social contract”, says Robert. “It’s too early to be specific about what form it will take longer term.” But Rathdowney recognises Poland as a great place to do business on a variety of levels, and is determined to show appreciation and sensitivity in return. And long may it continue.