Minerals Council of South Africa president Nolitha Fakude has urged South African mining companies to bring their environmental, social and corporate governance (better known as ESG) policies, programmes and reporting into line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She was addressing the Mining Indaba 2022 conference in Cape Town on Monday.
Aligning ESG with the SDGs would, she pointed out, not only bring all mining companies into line with each other, but create a common conceptual framework and understanding among all South Africans about what the industry was trying to do and the progress it was making. Further, many of the SDGs were directly relevant to mining. She pointed out that the sector suffered from a poor public image.
Her ESG/SDG proposal was one of her suggested answers in response to questions about the sector that she herself posed. Thus, she wondered how the industry could ensure that every stakeholder understood the importance of the mining sector. How could it re-establish itself in the eyes of society?
She stated that the ‘narrative’ regarding the South African mining industry remained “stubbornly negative”. One problem was that mining was a paradoxical industry: it could be beneficial and harmful at the same time.
“In South Africa specifically we know that mining is a catalyst for economic growth,” she pointed out. Unfortunately, this was often underestimated by those outside the industry.
A major issue was the big gap in the country between the privileged and the marginalised. Mining should not only benefit the privileged. Mining companies could, through interactions with the communities located around their operations, bring great benefits to those communities. But the companies had to work with more than just governments. For example, they should also work with local nongovernmental organisations.
As the world emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, and moved towards a zero-carbon-emissions economy, it was imperative that the industry reviewed its past ESG performance focused on the future. Policies that had worked in the past should be retained, while those that had not delivered should be ended, she affirmed. Mining had to ensure that it was seen as part of the solution, not as part of the problem.
Moving successfully into the future required a focus on inclusive growth, on building trust with all stakeholders, based on integrity, transparency and quick action. The industry’s approach to safety was critically important. It had to have an uncompromising focus on safety and all companies needed a zero-harm mindset in all their operations.
Inclusiveness in developing the low carbon economy had to include women and the youth. And that brought the need to openly confront gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and sexual harassment, both inside and outside the mine. There had to be a cultural change, enforced with vigilant monitoring, especially with regard to gender-based violence. “Our call to action should be – not under my watch!” she proclaimed.
With the tenth anniversary of the infamous ‘Marikana Massacre’ (in which the South African Police Service killed 34 miners) coming up in August (“a low point for the industry”) she wondered if the industry had changed for the better since then. She believed it had.
“The mining industry is being experienced as a national champion,” she affirmed. “No one company can be a national champion.”