Australian mining giant BHP has retained its title as the world’s most valuable mining brand, according to the latest Mining, Iron & Steel report by Brand Finance.

Brand value is the net economic benefit the brand’s owner would achieve by licensing the brand in the open market.

With a brand value of $5.8bn, BHP topped the ranking of mining brands again, despite recording a 3% drop in brand value following a turbulent 2019. BHP was involved in a $5bn lawsuit following the Samarco dam disaster in Brazil in 2015, which killed 19 people. The Australian bushfire crisis also severely damaged BHPs coal output, with production falling 13% in late 2019. Falling demand from China has also contributed to BHP’s drop in brand value.

Mining companies are bracing for a potentially difficult year due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, and the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19’s economic impact has led miners to be particularly cautious in their forecasts for the year ahead.

Brand Finance director Savio D’Souza told Mining Technology: “Coronavirus is expected to have a short-term effect on the mining industry, but commodity prices have been relatively resilient. The real effect can only really be ascertained once the true duration and spread of the virus is understood. We expect the first half of the year will likely be hit as we are already witnessing companies prudently adding coronavirus as a major source of uncertainty.”

D’Souza said he expects the coronavirus crisis to affect three key areas in the industry: operations, supply chain, and global demand.

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“There is an opportunity for the industry to take a leading role in addressing the effects of the crisis in helping tackle challenges arising from Covid-19 rather than being reactive,” D’Souza added. “A proactive approach is likely to have a positive long-term effect on the reputation of the industry and mining brands.”

Brand Finance also evaluated the relative strength of brands, according to criteria based on marketing spend, corporate reputation, and brand familiarity. On this metric, Rio Tinto has overtaken BHP as the strongest mining brand.

Brand Finance noted the importance of companies’ approaches to the climate crisis in the enduring reputation of mining companies. BHP’s recently appointed CEO, Mike Henry, has attracted scrutiny already for his refusal to withdraw BHP from the Minerals Council of Australia, which has been heavily criticised for its position on the climate crisis. Similarly, Rio Tinto has drawn the attention of climate activists and environmental groups, and recently pledged $1bn over the next five years to reduce its carbon footprint.

Brand Finance CEO David Haigh said: “BHP, along with all mining, iron and steel brands, is having to negotiate the increasing intolerance of new mining projects; a strong brand becomes increasingly important in keeping other influential stakeholders, such as regulators, on side to maintain growth and profitability.”