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  • Writer's pictureAlistair Nicholas

Companies investing in Australia need a "social licence to operate"

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

In 2017, while Executive Vice President and Director of Special Projects at Powell Tate Australia (the public affairs arm of international public relations firm Weber Shandwick), I led a research project to look at the success factors for companies from China investing in Australian agriculture and agribusiness.

The report's overwhelming finding was that foreign investors needed to look beyond Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approval and work at obtaining a "social licence to operate" in Australia.Those findings are still relevant two years on and are relevant not only for investors from the People's Republic of China (PRC), but for investors from other countries, including Western democracies and even English-speaking ones like the United States and United Kingdom.

Essentially the report found that many Chinese companies' investments in Australia were failing because they had not obtained a social licence to operate in the market. They had focused their efforts on lobbying the federal government through the FIRB process to obtain approval for their investment, thinking that once they had that approval everything was "done and dusted". In fact, the real work actually starts only after government approval is achieved.

Strategies and tactics recommended included:

- Stakeholder mappings and audits to better understand concerns of stakeholders and address them through sophisticated communications and public relations strategies;

- Employ local management and ensure local businesses are engaged in your supply chain and are treated respectfully;

- Engage with the local community, including supporting local causes through social impact and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs; and,

- Engage with local indigenous communities.

If you would like to receive a copy of the full report, email me at and I will send it to you.

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