Normalising respect and remedy for human rights in mining
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Normalising respect and remedy for human rights in mining

By Yoana Cholteeva 03 Mar 2021

We explore five notable takeaways from the Responsible mining index (RMI) 2020 report, published by the Responsible Mining Foundation, which observes the rates of overall respect of human rights in the industry and sheds a light on a wide range of issues related to mining.

Normalising respect and remedy for human rights in mining
180 mine sites across 49 producing countries have been assessed against basic indicators, revealing that approximately one-third of the mine sites disclose any information about operational-level grievance mechanisms. Source: Hangela from Pixabay

Ten years after the adoption of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, data from the RMI Report 2020 shows that large mining companies score a low average of 19% on human rights issues.

Another worrying element according to the report is, when all 59 human rights-related metrics are averaged, the lack of consistency across all human rights issues shown by these mining companies.

Similar issue evident from the research is that the available grievance mechanisms within the industry are found insufficient. For this category, 180 mine sites across 49 producing countries have been assessed against basic indicators, revealing that approximately one-third of the mine sites disclose any information about operational-level grievance mechanisms for communities and workers.

1. More effort is needed

According to the report, most companies were unable to demonstrate that they efficiently track and publicly report on how they are managing their ethical, environmental, social, and governance issues. Fewer of them have also shown evidence of reviewing their performance and revising their responsive actions where necessary.

Similarly, events with severe adverse impacts categorised as ‘harsh reminders of the unacceptable risks faced by many communities, workers, and environments in mining areas’ have demonstrated insufficient efforts towards tackling crucial problems.

For instance, tragedies such as the Vale tailings disaster in Brumadinho and Rio Tinto destroying the 46,000-year-old Aboriginal heritage site in Western Australia, along with attacks on human rights defenders, demonstrate how the industry tackles serious crises and approaches the notion of responsible mining.

The report firmly points out that: “The mining industry needs to prove that it prioritises environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risk management over short-term considerations.”

2. Some companies score as low as 19%, others as high as 75%

While the data signifies a low average of 19% scored by large mining companies on human rights-related issues, it also points out that, on the other side of the spectrum, a few companies score 75% or above on some of their management strategies and action plans.

These results are linked to the way those companies assess and address specific risks related to issues such as water rights, indigenous peoples’ rights, land rights, resettlement, workers’ rights, security forces, and child labour.

The research accentuates that external requirements are what often drives stronger-performing and more transparent companies, as they are usually subject to specific requirements set by investors or producing country/home country governments.

For example, investor-led requests for disclosure of information on tailings dams usually generate much more publicly available data of critical interest to shareholders, debt issuers, insurers, and governments.

3. The risk of ‘SDG-washing’

With some signs of progress, but mostly commitments observed since the previous RMI report in 2018, the researchers warn that some of these ESG-related promises might be linked to the trending perspective and elevated attention to such matters.

Over the past two years, a few companies have been reported to develop new or stronger management standards, however many of them have shown little sign of change with an evident gap between ‘corporate commitments’ and ‘successful business practices’.

While the researchers welcome companies’ pledges to align their sustainability reporting with the commonly agreed on sustainable development goals (SDG), they have spotted trends of selective reporting. This risks the perception of SDG-washing as companies generally omit sharing information on negative factors that could impede the achievement of these objectives.

4. Mine-site data is still missing

While some companies demonstrate elevated SDG commitments, many mine sites still don’t disclose enough site-level data on issues of strong public interest for communities, employees, and governments.

They also rarely collaborate in mine sites evidence engagement with local communities, which could help build trust with stakeholders and help companies adopt responsible mine site behaviour across their operations while transparently sharing information.

With the RMI Report 2020 showing that the large mining companies scored a low average of 19% on human rights-related issues, the latest research encourages mining companies to fully embrace the precepts of ‘respect’ and ‘remedy’ on all aspects of human rights.

5. Good results are attainable

While individual company results are generally low when regarded individually, the researchers point out that, collectively, the companies prove that society expectations are achievable. For example, if a single company achieves all the highest scores seen for every indicator, it will reach over 70% of the maximum achievable score.

Similarly, if a mining site achieves all the best scores recorded in a mining assessment, it would enable it to reach over 80%. Thus, every miner is reminded of its impact and is encouraged to adopt the responsible practices already demonstrated across the sector.