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Responsible mining practices not met with sufficient company action

A new index released by mining industry assessor, the Responsible Mining Foundation, has found that while mining companies show responsible policies and practices with regards to various issues in the mining industry; very few companies show systematic action in dealing with these issues.

The ‘Responsible Mining Index 2018, launched on 11 April is the first of a multi-year initiative by the Responsible Mining Foundation launched as a means to highlight leading practices and show what is still to be done by large-scale mining companies to encourage continuous improvement in responsible mining and support leading practice and learning.

“With the launch of the Responsible Mining Index 2018, we aimed to create a strong knowledge base that is open to all, and encourages leading practice and learning across the mining industry,” says Responsible Mining Foundation CEO Hélène Piaget.

“We will continue to engage with all stakeholders to support responsible mining, and encourage constructive dialogue between companies and stakeholders – whether they be communities that neighbour mining operations or large institutional investors,” she says.

The Index assesses and compares company policies and practices across six different economic, environmental, social and governance (EESG) areas including economic development, business conduct, lifecycle management, community well-being, working conditions and environmental responsibility.

Independent of the industry, the Index covers 30 large-scale mining companies that together represent 25% of the global production of mined commodities and operate over 700 mines in more than 40 countries.

As an evidence-based assessment, the Index measures the extent to which companies can demonstrate, rather than simply claim, that they have established responsible policies and practices.

The Index results show that responsible mining is a realistic goal – with 19 of the 30 companies ranking among the ten strongest performers for at least one thematic area of the Index.

“Leading practices are found even on issues for which performances are generally, weak, such as addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in mining-affected communities, the Responsible Mining Foundation notes.

These results all point to the strong potential for continuous improvement based on existing practices already demonstrated by a number of different companies.

On the other hand, the results show some marked limitations in current practice.

Companies tend to put in place policy commitments without always backing these up with systematic, effective company-wide action. This is seen even for topics where commitments are common and commonly expected, such as human rights and occupational health and safety. Further, the scale and persistence of severe adverse impacts is at odds with the widespread existence of such commitments.

For example, worker fatalities and violations of human rights are among the most frequent adverse impacts found in the Responsible Mining Index analysis. In the face of such evidence, strong company commitments are sometimes not matched by company actions, which clearly need to be more effective.

Moreover, companies typically show a lack of systematic attention to monitoring their performance on EESG issues and reporting their performance to other stakeholders, including mining-affected communities. This lack of ‘knowing and showing’ their own performance is most evident at the mine-site level.

The vast majority of the 127 sites assessed provide little or no data on key issues of direct interest to local communities, workers and other stakeholders. This includes information on how a site is managing local employment, local procurement, grievance, water use and biodiversity impacts.

“Without open sharing of such data, it is very difficult for companies to build trust with local communities,” the Responsible Mining Foundation stresses.

Nonetheless a few companies and a few sites are showing the way by putting into practice open data principles to ensure the information reported is easily accessed, understood and used by local communities.

“The adoption of leading practice would ensure that data is disaggregated, provide regular or real-time information, allow change to be seen, allow users to understand the context, and is locally accessible and machine readable.

“Disclosure of public-interest data in an effective manner can help companies foster more informed engagement with their stakeholders, including governments, investors and civil society, the Responsible Mining Foundation notes.

Chantelle Kotze
Chantelle Kotze is a Johannesburg-based media professional. She is a contributor at Mining Review Africa (Clarion Events - Africa) and has created content for the media brand over the past 6 years.