Environmental, social and governance issues (ESGs) are high on the corporate agenda these days, not least in the mining sector. In southern Africa, the industry relied for decades on a ruthless and racially exploitative model of cheap migrant labour and predatory capitalism that explains much of the union militancy that is seen today. (Indeed, union and other critics would claim that in many ways it still does — remember Marikana?)
So it is perhaps a welcome sign that a platinum mine in the region — the Unki operation in Zimbabwe run by Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) — will be the first to undergo an independent audit to see if it meets the “Standard for Responsible Mining.”
This standard — really a set of standards — has been developed by the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), a nonprofit group. Its leadership is drawn from NGOs, unions, mining communities, mining companies, and companies that purchase mined commodities. The standards have been more than a decade in the making and involved public consultations with various stakeholders.
According to the IRMA website, the standards are applied to areas such as legal compliance, community engagement, human rights, grievance mechanisms, and — an issue that has gained much prominence in recent years — “transparency in revenue payments from companies to governments”. This is crucial in a failing state such as Zimbabwe, which has a very poor ranking of 160 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s widely regarded Corruption Perceptions Index.
Other measurements include “emergency preparedness and response” (think of the several mining disasters of late), occupational and community health and safety, greenhouse gas emissions, water management and biodiversity protection.
“We are pleased that Unki will be the first mine in the world to publicly commit to a third-party audit to determine its performance against IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining. As our customers and end consumers who rely on our metals and minerals rightly expect the highest standards of ethical production, we will be putting all our managed mines through such rigorous certification processes by 2025,” Anglo American chief executive Mark Cutifani was quoted as saying in a statement.
The initial phase involves an online self-assessment. In an emailed response to questions from Business Maverick, Amplats said this “allows a company to see how its practices perform against the Standard for Responsible Mining, which focuses on 26 areas”.
“Following this, a third-party independent auditor is appointed to visit the site and confirm the results of the self-assessment. The certification process does not result in a pass or fail system; IRMA offers companies claims and credibility as they move along the path of continuous improvement.” Amplats also noted “growing customer interest” in such issues.
Unki hosted one of the first pilot audits under the initiative, so it is relatively well prepared for the process.
It will be interesting to see what the initial verdict is and what companies follow suit. It is easy to be glib about such initiatives and dismiss them as corporate greenwashing or whitewashing or what have you. But a diverse group of stakeholders — including many that are not driven by profit — are involved. It would be churlish not to note the progress that has been made on a range of social issues in the mining space in recent decades, even in this blighted region where the industry has been so tainted by its past links with colonialism and apartheid.
Let’s hope it heralds a mining sector that is profitable and at the same time more responsive to community and environmental needs, more transparent in its dealings with questionable governments and ultimately more equitable.
Resources in Africa do not always have to be a curse. BM
Taylor Swift owns the rights to "This Sick Beat"