To mark the upcoming European Communication Summit (celebrating its 10th anniversary on 7 and 8 July), this issue of Communication Director has a special focus on the theme of this year’s Summit: the purpose and societal context of business, and in particular the social licence to operate. Examples of lost social licences abound, from Shell in the Niger Delta, BP in the Gulf of Mexico, dam building in Myanmar to the GMO debate in Europe. In this issue, we look at how digital giants like Google and Facebook struggle with legitimacy: their size and ubiquity, not to mention our fears about data security, obliges them to constantly apply for the licence to operate. Winning the social licence is harder to define: in this issue, Simone Niven shares some case studies from Rio Tinto’s work with local communities directly affected by its mining activities, including Aboriginal people in Western Australia, while Chris Ettery relates how risk mitigation was one of several approaches taken by Lafarge’s stakeholder engagement. But social licence doesn’t just belong to companies. It also applies to professions, among them communications and public relations. In an age of spin, greenwashing, and budget restraints, how do communicators stake their claim to validity, and ensure that their work is fuelled by purpose? That’s another question posed in this issue of Communication Director.
The unwritten contract: the social licence to operate