New Rules for Sustainable Mining

The world's largest mining companies have agreed new benchmarks for advancing the sustainability performance of the mining sector, and the ICMM's CEO, Tom Butler, told Mines and Money delegates about its implications for trust.

Like Comment

On November 26, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) announced new membership requirements that will advance the sustainability performance of the mining sector. Included in ICMM's 38 new performance expectations is a commitment that the organisation's 27 corporate members will implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The following day Tom Butler, the ICMM's CEO, gave a keynote presentation at the Mines and Money (M&M) conference in London. Mr Butler, who was previously global head of mining at the IFC, started his presentation by noting that trust generally was at an all-time low. Mr Butler referred, in particular, to this year's Edelman Trust Barometer, which revealed a world of seemingly stagnant distrust.

Founded in 2001, ICMM is an international organisation dedicated to a safe, fair and sustainable mining and metals industry. In addition to the 27 mining and metals companies, the organisation brings together over 30 regional and commodities associations. The ICMM's website says it serves as a "catalyst for change; enhancing mining's contribution to society".

Mr Butler arrived at M&M hotfoot from Geneva, where he had been speaking at the UN Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights. Mining Beacon (MB) caught up with him after his presentation at M&M and asked him to describe the new initiative.

Tom Butler (TB): The new performance expectations will define what 'mining with principles' looks like in practice. Our members have set a new benchmark for the industry's environmental and social performance.

MB: To whom will these rules apply?

TB: The performance expectations will apply to all ICMM's company members, and they manage almost 650 assets in over 50 countries. These assets account for nearly half of the world's iron ore and copper production, and over one-quarter of all mined commodities by value. Therefore, it will be the most far-reaching initiative to advance environmental and social performance in the mining industry.

MB: Who developed these new performance expectations?

TB: They were developed with extensive input from NGOs, international organisations and academics. The new expectations cover environmental and social performance and as part of this ICMM is the first industry body to commit to implementing the UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

MB: And will these expectations apply to companies that are not members of ICMM?

TB: The initiative has CEO-level support within all corporate members of ICMM, but importantly, other companies will be able to commit to our performance expectations, and I hope this will lead the broader industry further to improve its social and environmental performance.

MB: What is the next step?

TB: ICMM is currently developing guidance on how members will validate the performance expectations at the operational level — including independent third-party assessments. We expect this guidance to be complete in the middle of 2019.

MB: Turning back to what you told M&M delegates about global trust, why is it at an all-time low?

TB: Well, in its report last January, Edelman concluded that the world is "moving apart in trust". The report noted that in previous years "market-level trust has moved largely in lockstep, but for the first time ever there is now a distinct split between extreme trust gainers and losers".

MB: Is this a worry for mining companies?

TB: Yes, the 'trust gap' in mining is a consistent theme. However, it is not all bad news. Notwithstanding the overall picture, trust levels in the private sector are still higher than those in government. There are three areas on which we must focus to improve the situation; transparency and accountability, engagement, and values and purpose. The first addresses the need to provide relevant data to stakeholders, the second the need to be humble and clear, and the third (probably the most important) is the need for executives to set the tone. CEOs need constantly to articulate their company's values.

MB: Is this an industry-wide problem, or just isolated instances?

TB: Over half of a company's reputation is linked to the performance of its peers, so trust in the industry tends to rise, and fall, together and unfortunately, trust arrives on foot but leaves on horseback. This is one reason why we hope that other mining and metals companies will adopt our performance expectations as not only will companies' environmental and social performance improve, but they will be able to show communities, investors and other stakeholders that it has. 

MB: Thank you.

Chris Hinde

Chief Commentator, Mining Beacon

Previously editorial director of Mining Journal, and more recently head of S&P Global Market Intelligence's metals and mining team, Chris is now Mining Beacon's editor-in-chief and lead commentator. He posts two blogs every week, one on Monday reviewing market conditions over the prior week, and a second on Thursday looking at issues on the global mining scene. There is also a quarterly blog on business opportunities in the sector.


Go to the profile of Andrew Thake
about 3 years ago

When I first joined the Mines and Money team in 2014, phrases like 'social license to operate' and 'sustainability' weren't exactly front of mind, both in the eyes of investors and miners. It's really refreshing to see that the efforts of the likes of ICMM are starting to pay off. I now very rarely see a presentation from a producer that doesn't talk about how they are trying to meet the needs of local communities and ensuring that their mining operation is a force for good.