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DOING SOME DIGGING – Mining ethics rated

"Ethics" is a word seldom applied to the mining industry. We use "corporate responsibility", &q...


"Ethics" is a word seldom applied to the mining industry. We use "corporate responsibility", "sustainable development", "community involvement" and "environmentally responsible" to describe the industry’s many efforts at being good corporate citizens. "Ethics" is usually the word following "medical" and very much in the news lately as the press has taken up the right-to-die case of a brain-damaged Florida woman.

Now "ethics" and "mining" have been linked in the latest issue of THE CORPORATE ETHICS MONITOR. Whether or not you agree with its methodology or conclusions, it does make for some thoughtful reading.

This publication is the work of EthicScan Canada Ltd. (www.ethicscan.ca). The business bills itself as this country’s oldest (founded in 1989) and largest full-service ethics consultancy. This fee-for-service business offers original independent research into the social, labour and environmental performance of 1,500 Canadian organizations.

The January-February issue of The Corporate Ethics Monitor has four articles aimed at the mining industry. Diamond miners and gold miners are rated on their ethical performance. This is the first of three such themed issues, and the others will tackle other commodity producers (coal and iron ore in March-April and base metals in May-June).

EthicScan uses a modified Delphi grading system in which an A+ is 90% and over, A is 75-89%, and so on down the alphabet to E which is 19% or less. Each company received a grade in equity and family; community responsibilities; management practices and consumer relations; corporate governance; environmental performance; environmental management; employee relations; progressive staff policies; sourcing and trading; and candour. The system is not as complicated as it sounds when the results are laid out in a graph.

Six Canadian diamond companies were studied: ABER, ASHTON, BHP BILLITON DIAMONDS, DE BEERS CANADA, the DIAVIK mine and TAHERA. The highest grade on the chart was a single "B" given to Diavik for environmental management, but its environmental performance rated only a "D". Almost across the board environmental management was rated higher than actual performance. Diavik also received the highest mark, a 43, for candour.

Seven Canadian gold producers were studied: AGNICO-EAGLE, BARRICK, GLAMIS GOLD, GOLDCORP, KINROSS, PLACER DOME and WHEATON RIVER. Again the highest grade awarded was a pair of "B"s to Placer Dome in the category of equity and family and the category of environmental management. Placer Dome also received a candour rating of 78, with Barrick getting a 61.

Individual mining companies might want to contest some of the ratings they received; I would if it were my performance being graded. EthicScan’s ratings look to me to be on the low side across the board and in some cases undeserved. The standards used are very high, but perhaps they were applied to point toward how much more can be done.

I would suggest our readers not become outraged until they have read the entire report. What I have mentioned here barely scratches the surface of the subject. Readers of CMJ’s Net News can contact EthicScan president David Nitkin at david@ethicscan.ca for a sample copy of the Monitor at no charge.

Let the dialog begin.