Trade for prosperity

By Richard Morgan, Head of Government Relations, Anglo American

Mining companies are not often thought of as development actors. But they should aspire to be. All companies are being increasingly judged not just by their profit and loss but by their sustainability footprint. Digging up finite materials might not seem a sustainable activity but if you look at mining through the lens of the UN SDGs you will find that we make contributions to almost all of the 17 goals. You instinctively think about job creation, taxes and infrastructure but even on the environmental SDGs, eg water, carbon, life on land we can also be a positive force. This is because the nature of mining is changing, from what used to be primarily extractive to now more participative in the economic, environmental, social and governance aspects of running a responsible business. It’s why we like the SDGs as a lens for measuring our contributions – they bring together the ESG aspects of our footprint with the economic imperatives of our business and the socio-economic impacts of the role we play.

But these broader contributions we make in being both a growth orientated business and broader development partner are not widely known or believed, so you first have to build trust. We have been running SDG Accountability dialogues to discuss the role of mining in society since 2018, consulting with external stakeholders – including local and national governments – about how we measure our contribution to the SDGs. So far, we have held them in South Africa, Brazil and Australia and in each case it has been a good way of focussing attention within the business about our wider development potential and also identifying potential partners who want to work with us towards the same end. 

There are a number of practical examples that reflect this: 

1 In South Africa we have signed a Declaration of Intent with the UN arising from the SDG dialogues and will be looking to combine efforts in a national development priority area in the Waterberg which is close to one of our largest platinum mines (Mogalakwena). 

2 In that same mine we have just launched the first-ever hydrogen-powered ultra-class haul-truck under the nuGen project, which is part of our Future Smart Mining programme. At 220 tons truck weight and 290 tons load capacity this has been a major technical investment and achievement. Combining it with renewable power generation and green hydrogen produced by electrolysis this is game-changing in a country that has been too long dependent on coal-fired electricity and imported diesel, as it opens up the opportunity to decarbonise and power various industrial activities ranging from agriculture to steel, heavy freight and public transport. From a business perspective this is also sustainable as the fuel cells involved will use platinum. 

3 IRMA – the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. This is a multi-sector certification scheme aimed at replicating what the FSC did for the timber industry. It was developed through consultation with more than 100 different individuals and organisations, including NGOs, labour unions, mining companies, communities, customers and the ultimate downstream users of mined products and over 10 years has required much persistence to get to the operational level. Our Unki mine in Zimbabwe was the first to through the independent audit and we are now rolling it out across our mines worldwide. It is not a tick-box exercise but more of a graded exercise whereby you may never score 100% but you can come in at 50% or 75% – the key thing being to be open about the results and about improvement.

Many companies will have similar stories. What is clear is that in a world where there is increasing competition between different value-systems, those who want to aim high will have to make clear why and to whom they are appealing as they find ways of having this conversation through their value chain, both with customers and suppliers. That market for this increasingly exists and it is for the benefit of all our futures.

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