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CSR’s blue sky thinking

At BNP Paribas’s recent Sustainable Future Forum in Singapore every presentation was prefaced by a burst of song from iconic Australian rock band Midnight Oil, much to the delight of Australian speakers.

Indeed, it ran on a loop through the coffee breaks and is still stuck in Euromoney’s head now.

The song in question – Blue Sky Mine – is an interesting choice for a corporate and social responsibility (CSR) conference, for more than one reason. The song, nominally about life under the fictional Blue Sky Mining Company is, at first glance, a critique of mining industry behaviour in Australia, with its angry lyrics about the company taking what it wants “and nothing’s so special as a hole in the ground”. 

It gained a certain perverse context when the band’s lead singer, Pete Garrett (pictured), became the federal minister for the environment in Kevin Rudd’s government in 2007. Journalists would quote his lyrics back at him whenever it appeared that his principles were being compromised by office.

The song is actually about a real situation, the Wittenoom blue asbestos mine in Western Australia, whose workers’ chronic overexposure to lethal substances from the 1940s to the 1960s has led to thousands of cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer in the subsequent years. The twist? There’s a line in the song that says: “If the sugar refining company won’t save me, who’s gonna save me?” That’s a reference to the mine’s owner, originally called the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, still very much in existence as an ASX200-listed company, but known today by its somewhat ironic abbreviation…. CSR. 

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