Going beyond cosmetic reporting with the UN SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a great example of an initiative that the mining sector can leverage to improve cross-sector collaboration and performance related to environment, social and governance initiatives. The SDGs were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. If you work with a government body, or in the social services sector, you are probably very familiar with the SDGs. Across the world and in Canada, governments use the SDGs to guide national policy and budget decisions as well as our contributions to international development and assistance. The SDGs include 17 goals “which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.” The goals range from no poverty to good health and wellbeing, to decent work and economic growth, clean water, and reduced inequalities. Each goal includes a series of targets and suggested indicators to track progress in achieving the targets (check out the UN SDG website for more details).
When the SDGs were developed (between 2010 and 2015 roughly), the UN made a concerted effort to consult the private sector, acknowledging the important role of cross-sector collaboration in achieving our collective development priorities. A review of the indicators illustrate that the private sector has a role in achieving the goals, but leadership and co-ordination needs to come from the public sector. So, what is the role of the private sector in supporting the SDGs? And how does that translate into the mining sector specifically?
While the mining sector is not responsible for setting targets or policy decisions to achieve the SDGs, there is no question that it can contribute to the SDGs. At a local level, the mining sector can contribute many benefits to our society. These can include good jobs, procurement opportunities, indirect economic benefits, shared infrastructure and revenue streams for governments, as well as contributions and donations to community investment programs. When we also responsibly manage the negative impacts of mining (e.g., impacts on the environment, resettlement, traffic, in-migration) and effectively engage with each other, we are most likely to see sustained positive outcomes from mining activity.
Tool for miners
In 2016, a number of organizations including the Colombia Center for Sustainable Investment and the United National Development Program, put together an atlas that highlights the many ways the sector can contribute to the SDGs. The tool, Mapping Mining to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas, is a great resource for companies and other stakeholders. It helps connect the dots between the goals and action the sectors can take, making the role of the mining sector very explicit. In the past two to three years alone, Canadian mining companies have increasingly used the SDGs as a framework to report on local (and global) benefits. That being said, companies are not generally using SDGs as a framework to set strategy and drive action. Nor are they using the SDGs to report on performance or negative impacts. The Responsible Mining Foundation (RMF) report Mining and the SDGs: a 2020 Status Update illustrates this point. Some of the main findings are that across the benchmarked companies, reporting is cosmetic and does not focus on key SDGs for the sector such as SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing), SDG 5 (gender equality), and SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation).
There are in fact two ways that companies can use the SDGs to not only report on benefits, but manage impacts and engage and communicate with stakeholders from the local to global level.
- The SDGs are an opportunity to understand development priorities and collaborate with regional and local stakeholders. One of the ongoing challenges in the sector is the lack of co-ordination around a long-term vision for local and regional stakeholders. It often isn’t clear how stakeholders, including governments, want to leverage mining activity for long-term gain and what they want to achieve. The SDGs present a framework and an opportunity to have this conversation with stakeholders at the regional and local level. Governments will likely be more familiar with the framework then local communities, and it might very well be appropriate to adapt the way the SDGs are presented (language, terms, examples) for a specific context.
- Use the SDGs as a framework to communicate and track progress in the sector over the next decade. This can be done by individual companies as well as collectively. As highlighted by the RMF report mentioned above, companies are currently using the SDGs as a framework to report on benefits on a global scale. This is useful for stakeholders who are interested in comparing data and performance across companies, but there are a number of challenges.
> The information is often generalized, using anecdotal experiences to illustrate performance.
> The data focuses on inputs and outputs as opposed to progress related to a certain outcome.
> Especially for larger companies, not all SDGs are as relevant at the local level. Corporate summaries water down the main development goals at a local level.
If companies consider all of their sustainability reporting at a site and corporate level through an SDG lens, and report changes over time, they could provide stakeholders with more transparency and evidence about how the company is meeting their internal and external commitments. At the same time, collective reporting at a local and regional level is very powerful. It is harder to manage logistically, but can illustrate how development goals are (or aren’t) being met in a specific region. This can drive policy decisions, budgets and action by multiple stakeholders and act as an important catalyst as we approach the end of the decade.
CAROLYN BURNS is executive director of the Devonshire Initiative
(www.devonshireinitiative.org), a multi-stakeholder forum that supports cross-sector
collaboration to support sustained positive outcomes for mining-impacted communities.