Social License to Operate (SLO) has come to be understood to be an unwritten social contract between a company and a community. Being unwritten implies that SLO is built on trust.
To have a SLO means that your company is accepted by local communities and you are allowed to go about your business. As trust ebbs and flows the strength of the SLO between stakeholders and over time will vary, ranging from passive acceptance through to broad-based trust. Your SLO makes it is possible for to maintain access to land, to secure government approvals, to build a reputation as a responsible business and to manage your social risk. Your SLO is a complement to the regulatory licence issued by government and increasingly carries weight equal to or greater than the regulatory licence.
Unlike a formal permit with its documented compliance points and periodic review and renewal process, the unwritten nature of a social license means that it is constantly evolving and requires ongoing, (often on-demand) renewal and maintenance, which in turn requires ongoing attention to your relationship with your local communities.
Earning and maintaining a SLO is as much about looking inside as it is looking outside, with company actions - what you do, or do not do - directly affecting the strength or weakness of your social license. You may be tempted to look outside for the reasons for your problems with your local communities but you would be well-served to look inside - at your own policies and practices - if you are serious about improving the quality of your relationships and the strength of your social license.