To gain a social license to operate and grow, companies should have effective community engagement activities, social impact assessment processes, environmental and social impact management procedures, and human rights-compatible grievance redress mechanisms in place. In this way, environmental impacts and social impacts would likely be identified and addressed before issues escalate and social risk amplifies. Companies also need to treat communities with respect and be mindful of local culture. Where these things are not done, there will be no social license to operate. Protests are mechanisms by which affected communities express their concerns and signal there is no social license. As argued in our previous work on conceptualizing social protests, protests are warning signs, as well as opportunities for companies to improve. Rather than let protest actions escalate, leading to violent confrontation and considerable cost and harm, companies should engage in meaningful dialogue with protesters. Unfortunately, company response is often inadequate or inappropriate. In this paper, we identify around 175 actions companies might take in relation to community protest, and we discuss how these actions variously have the potential to escalate or de-escalate conflict, depending on whether the company engages in appropriate and genuine interaction with protesters or if repressive measures are used. While effective engagement will likely de-escalate conflict, ignoring or repressing protests tends to provoke stronger reactions from groups seeking to have their concerns heard. When companies address community concerns early, their social license to operate is enhanced. We also outline the primary international standards companies are expected to comply with, and we identify the key environmental, social, and governance issues (ESG principles) that should be respected.
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