HomeBase MetalsThe protection of human rights is an industry responsibility

The protection of human rights is an industry responsibility

In South Africa’s mining sector, the Minerals Council South Africa believes that companies have an important role to play in protecting the human rights of all industry stakeholders and has therefore taken a leading role in advocating for this among its member companies.

CHANTELLE KOTZE spoke to senior executive for public affairs and transformation TEBELLO CHABANA about how the Council is driving the protection of human rights in the workplace through its Human Rights Framework.

While it is a widely accepted norm that businesses should respect fundamental human rights, it is an important starting point for businesses to first understand what human rights are and how their operations could potentially have an impact on them in and out of the workplace, Chabana explains.

The Minerals Council’s Human Rights Framework, adopted in 2018, is a living document that outlines a set of management practices the industry aspires to implement to demonstrate a responsible approach to respecting human rights.

The framework has largely been based on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) as well as the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability and the International Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) Standards.

“Although the framework is a voluntary instrument in nature, it provides guidance on the notion of business respect for human rights and is aimed at encouraging compliance with existing laws and taking adequate measures to prevent, mitigate against and provide for mediation where impacts on human rights are not avoidable,” says Chabana.

He explains that the respect of human rights is upheld by Minerals Council members as the fourth principle of the Council’s 10 Guiding Principles within the Minerals Council’s Membership Compact – a mandatory code of good business practice to which members of the Minerals Council subscribe as a condition of membership.

Should any member breach the Membership Compact and fail to take active steps to comply with the Compact within a reasonable time, Chabana says the Council will cancel the membership of such member – as has been the case with a member in the past. Membership to the Minerals Council has also been denied on the basis of not meeting the Council’s values or standards of good business conduct, he further notes.

Driving value through improved, implementable standards and guidelines

“The Minerals Council is a strong believer that business must positively impact their stakeholders and society at large,” says Chabana, noting that the adoption of this framework is a step forward for companies to become better corporate citizens.

Although recognising that all rights need to be respected, the Minerals Council has identified a number of priority areas specific to the South African mining context where mining operations may potentially impact on human rights, these include:

  • Environmental management and conservation;
  • Health and safety;
  • Governance and ethics;
  • Security and human rights;
  • Transformation;
  • Human rights at the workplace;
  • Land-use and resettlements; and
  • Development of grievance mechanisms.

In assessing whether mining operations may potentially be impacting on any of these priority areas, Chabana says the framework clearly outlines the responsibility that needs to be taken by mining companies to ensure that human rights are being respected within the mining sector.

Chabana explains that mining companies must start by developing a policy statement with public affirmation to stakeholders of the company’s human rights commitments followed by a due diligence to assess how its operations may impact on human rights and engagement with affected stakeholders on how an operation may potentially be impacting on the respective stakeholders.

Implementing grievance mechanisms as a way for impacted stakeholders to raise concerns is an important reporting mechanism in the process, says Chabana, and it must be followed by the implementation of remediation measures. The progress of this must be monitored and the way in which the impacts are being addressed and resolved must be communicated to the affected stakeholders, he notes.

“Despite the varied nature of member companies, some of which are large multi-national corporations who are global good governance trailblazers compared with small to mid-sized entities, it is important for member companies to understand what protecting human rights entails and make an effort to adhere to some of the basics relating to the Council’s Human Rights Framework,” Chabana says.

Going forward, the Council’s aim is to provide training on various elements and components of the framework so that its members understand what the local and global norms and standards are, with the aim of going beyond compliance among our member companies, he adds.