Australians need to educate themselves about the full cost of technology and resources – particularly in relation to disadvantaged communities, says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.
As leader of one of five Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks, Ms Edwards convenes a group of Jesuits and lay people on issues around the governance of natural and mineral resources. The other four groups focus on peace and human rights, right to education, ecology and migration. The networks’ leaders gathered in Rome recently for a series of planning meetings.
Ms Edwards said that while people around the Society are aware of the importance of tackling issues such as education and migration, the need to engage on the issue of governance of natural and mineral resources is more difficult to grasp.
'We know that mining is important - we've all got iPads and iPhones - but the reality is that in many places, what's happening is people are being pushed off their land, or they’re not compensated when they are, or the land isn't properly rehabilitated', she says.
'There are environmental issues and there are social justice issues that need to be talked about.'
The natural and mineral resources advocacy network focuses on extractive industries, engaging with affected communities on the ground and with the western companies leading operations.
'Our first challenge is to put the problem in accessible language, for people to understand why this is an issue - and why it's an issue for us. Maybe it's an issue in the Congo, or maybe it’s an issue in Mindanao in the Philippines, but why is it an issue for us in Australia? We need to find a better way to communicate the story, to link it to our lifestyles.'
Another focus, Ms Edwards says, is in building the capacity of people on the ground to respond to these issues.
'There are many Jesuits who are in situations - as parish priests, or running a school - who come across this issue but don't feel skilled. For some it might be about how to get the story out, or how to work with communities. For others it might be around the legal side of the issue.'
The third focus is to find ways to support and advocate on behalf of local communities.
The network has been able to share the stories of people and communities in developing countries affected by mining activities with wider audiences throughout the world. This includes engaging with mining companies based in developed countries as well as institutional investors, particularly to where there are community issues that may affect their investment.
Another project aims to ensure Australian companies maintain the same labour practices overseas as they would be forced to maintain in Australia.
'For example, around the use of asbestos - if you're not allowed to do it here, you're not allowed to do it there', Ms Edwards says.
The network plans to map the activity of Australian companies across the Asia-Pacific and in so doing highlight areas where engagement is needed. It is also interested in promoting shareholder advocacy –investment in companies that are ethical or which shareholders can somehow influence – among Australian Jesuit school alumni.
'We're not asking people not to invest their money. We're not asking people not to get a good return on investment. But if we had a Jesuit alumni investment project where we got people to use their power and influence, that could be fantastic’, Ms Edwards says.
Jesuit Social Services has a part-time advocacy person dedicated to this work, but funding is needed to ensure these important works continue.
'The whole idea of the networking is that we are one body, with a universal mission. We need to get out of our entity or region. Most wicked problems of the world cross boundaries. We need to work in that joined-up way if we're going to try and address them.'
To find out more about Jesuit Social Services and its policy and advocacy work, go to www.jss.org.au.