Canadian Mining Journal


Plenty of work done, plenty more to do

Recently, an important anniversary passed quietly. Ten years ago, in Toronto, the Global Mining Initiative Conference, a path-breaking global conference on mining and sustainable development, wrapped up. The Conference was the culmination of a...

Recently, an important anniversary passed quietly. Ten years ago, in Toronto, the Global Mining Initiative Conference, a path-breaking global conference on mining and sustainable development, wrapped up. The Conference was the culmination of a transformative global project called MMSD – Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development, and launched MMSD’s report called Breaking New Ground. The culmination of years of effort, drawing together over 5000 participants from across the globe, and informed by 200 background research papers and expert opinions from all sectors, the MMSD was a multiperspective conversation on how to maximize the contribution of the mining and minerals sector to sustainable development.

What was remarkable about the MMSD was its industry leadership, but not industry control. While it began with the premise that mining is critical to development and to modern society, the final report immediately acknowledged the industry’s interest in the conversation: “simply meeting market demand for mineral commodities,” the Report notes, “falls far short of meeting society’s expectations of industry.” What was needed was a “serious change in the way industry approached today’s problems.” The challenges faced by the sector in securing social license to operate were only likely to grow. So the approach of MMSD was deliberately inclusive, multistakeholder, and research oriented. It was about “achieving practical results” informed by empirical evidence. To maintain independence, the project was housed at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London England (the “IIED”), and overseen by a 25-person Assurance Group of independent experts. A global multistakeholder project of that scale and scope had never before been undertaken.

So, what did MMSD accomplish? It set a global agenda for change – in a collaborative fashion, it identified nine key areas of challenge, from artisanal mining to disclosure to community development, and for each, defined issues, ideas for action, and responsibilities for the wide range of stakeholders involved in these issues. While industry had a critical role, other responsibilities and capacities were also recognized: “Success will require improved capacity and performance by all in the minerals sector” – governments, academics, civil society, environmentalists, communities. A framework for moving forward had been set. The report remains compelling reading today, and should be a first point of departure for anyone interested in understanding the CSR and mining landscape. Its Agenda for Change, for example, clearly foreshadows today’s dispute resolution work of my Office.

Much has been accomplished as a result of MMSD. I was on the Steering Committee of a multistakeholder conference recently held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, called GEMM 20/20. The conference brought together many of the key players from MMSD, including the IIED and Luc Danielson, MMSD’s Director. The comments at the conference, in my view, could be wrapped as ‘much done, much still to do.’ This observation is echoed in a new paper from IIED “MMSD+10: Reflecting on a decade.” The IIED paper interviewed 36 stakeholders [mostly industry stakeholders it should be noted] and assesses progress, ongoing challenges and new issues. Interviewees noted that many of the recommendations of MMSD have not (yet?) been implemented.

The most immediate outcome of the Toronto conference 10 years ago was the creation of the International Council on Mining and Metals (“ICMM”) – as MMSD wrapped up, the ICMM became the industry’s vehicle for fulfilling its commitments. The ICMM, now led by Canadian Tony Hodge, brings together 22 mining and metals companies and 34 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations, including the Mining Association of Canada and the PDAC. ICMM member companies are required to implement ten Principles for Sustainable Development.

ICMM’s important role however, was not supposed to stand alone. According to the new IIED report, ICMM was “to be complemented by CASM (the Communities and Small-scale Mining body at the World Bank), the Intergovernmental Forum on Mining, Minerals, Metals and Sustainable Development…and IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature).” The IIED Report notes that the efforts to raise capacity of government, small-scale miners, and communities have borne limited fruit. Government capacity, in particular, came up repeatedly as far too limited. According to Luc Danielson, one major area of disappointment continues to be the lack of “an ongoing system of dialogue among companies, government, labour and civil society.”

The mining and sustainable development conversation matured significantly as a result of MMSD and its groundwork remains relevant 10 years later. But the work it began remains far from completed.

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