From the Bronze Age to the Information Age, minerals and metals have helped produce widespread innovation and continue to contribute to many aspects of contemporary life.

However, over the past several decades the global mining sector has grappled to find a positive balance between the benefits and negative impacts associated with mining.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) is focused on enhancing the global mining sector’s contribution to society and has become the first industry body to commit to and implement the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles require companies to respect human rights and take steps to ‘know and show’ how companies do so in practice.

This comes at a time where trust within institutional groups has become paramount. From governments to media organisations, big businesses and non-government organisations (NGOs), the social performance of an organisation is extremely important across the mining spectrum.

To support the industry’s contribution to sustainable development, the ICMM identified key areas which defined what mining with principles looks like in practice and sets a benchmark for the industry’s environmental and social performance.

These areas include environmental stewardship, human wellbeing and the role of mining and metals in society.

Speaking to National Mining Chronicle, ICMM Manager Hannah Clayton said societal expectations had evolved and had a significant impact on business.

“As the industry has improved its performance over time, societal expectations have continued to evolve,” she said.

With an increasing focus on stakeholder engagement, the ICMM’s new guiding principles have been designed to advance the overall sustainability performance across the sector.

This includes striving to apply ethical business practices and sound systems of corporate governance to support sustainable development and properly manage and mitigate the impact on the environment.

Setting the framework for best practice, the ICMM’s new performance expectations are the latest evolution of its sustainability framework.

Ms Clayton said the framework set out comprehensive environmental and social requirements, including issues such as labour rights, resettlement, local content, gender, access to grievance mechanisms, mine closures, pollution and waste.

The expectations help de ne what mining with principles looks like in practice and sets a yardstick for the industry’s environmental and social performance.

“The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) are the global standard of practice now expected of all states and businesses with regard to business and human rights,” Ms Clayton said.

“Respect for human rights is the baseline expectation of responsible business.”

The expectations embedded within these principles will apply to all ICMM’s company members, which manage almost 650 assets in over 50 countries, covering nearly half of the world’s iron ore and copper production and over a quarter of all mined commodities by value.

It will be the most far-reaching initiative to advance environmental and social performance in the mining industry.

Ms Clayton said all ICMM member companies must adhere to the sustainability framework.

“They commit to a set of 10 principles, eight supporting position statements and transparent and accountable reporting practices,” she said.

“The ICMM’s assurance process reinforces our members’ commitment to transparency and ensures the credibility of reported progress on social and environmental performance.”

In addition, all member companies are required to obtain annual third-party assurance of their performance in the area of sustainability.

“The ICMM is currently developing guidance on how members will validate the performance expectations at the operational level including through independent third-party assessments,” Ms Clayton said.

“We expect this guidance to be complete in the middle of 2019. It will be piloted during the second half of 2019 followed by full implementation across the membership.”

Ms Clayton said central to this guidance would be a greater understanding of the principles across the sector.

“Whilst states have the primary duty to protect people from human rights abuses by businesses, businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and undertake due diligence which exists even if the state is not fulfilling its duty,” she said. “Both have responsibilities to provide access to remedies to individuals harmed.

“Business responsibility to respect human rights is not only about respecting the human rights of local communities, although that is a critical part.

“It is about business respecting the human rights of anyone who is directly affected or linked to its activities, products or services – for example employees, contractors and people within the supply chain.

“So, whilst local mining communities are critical stakeholders, the responsibility is much broader.”

Mining with principles

The benefit of metals to modern life is indisputable. The ICMM has identified the following key themes to support the industry’s contribution to sustainable development.

Environmental stewardship

Mining and metals operations, local communities and others depend on water, land and energy. Securing access to these shared resources increasingly depends on demonstrating responsible stewardship and recognising the needs of local communities, conservation interests and other stakeholders. Leadership also involves committing to being part of the solution to climate change.

Human wellbeing

A responsible mining and metals industry puts people first. It provides safe and healthy work environments that protect against accidents and occupational diseases. It respects the rights of employees and local communities and contributes to economic and social progress. This requires the meaningful involvement of people in decisions that affect their future.

Role of mining and metals in society

The industry is essential to help societies develop. Beyond job creation and payment of taxes, responsible companies help promote better governance and enhanced transparency and accountability. Societal recognition of the essential contribution of metals and minerals to modern life depends in part on confidence they are produced responsibly and can be used safely.