As criticality continues to dominate the narrative and shape policy initiative worldwide, the incredible complexity of mineral value chains as well as the geostrategic, political, environmental and social implications of redesigning them are often misunderstood or underestimated.
Most stakeholders envisage only a limited portion of these complex, global systems, and can struggle to consider other perspectives. Even in the most technical fields, the sheer variety of circumstances and parties makes it essential to collaborate across disciplines and functions to achieve real change: this requires common understanding, respect and trust.
To build responsible value chains we need to challenge assumptions, develop empathy for each other and agree on common objectives. The 2023 Responsible Raw Materials online conference started on 09 May to explore how we can improve the quality of dialogue, foster greater trust among various actors and facilitate innovation for more responsible and sustainable mineral value chains.
Nusrat Ghani MP, Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade, opened the discussion with an overview of the UK’s Critical Minerals Strategy (July 2022) and Critical Minerals Refresh (March 2023), as well as the UK’s international and multilateral commitments to responsible, sustainable and resilient mineral value chains. She stressed that achieving shared goals requires more collaboration and carefully balancing mindful attention to legitimate concerns and constructive promotion of sound experience and good practices. When the issue of the multitude of international platforms and frameworks was raised, Minister Ghani pointed out that streamlining should focus on avoiding duplication to strengthen accountability. In a context of global competition, she sees initiatives in other countries and regions as opportunities to accelerate partnerships and critical mineral agreements, supercharge efforts to address industry concerns and expectations and increase coordination across expertise, sectors and policy initiatives.
“Developing responsible, sustainable global supplies of raw materials is fundamental to our security and prosperity; this is not an option, it’s a moral imperative. Not just because supply chains with high environmental, social and governance standards are more resilient, reducing our vulnerability to future geopolitical shocks and levelling the playing field for responsible British businesses, but because they are better not just in Britain but for the world as a whole and because it’s the right thing to do”
What we say
Trust is also derived from the common language we establish to discuss important issues. The Committee for Mineral Reserves International Reporting Standards (CRIRSCO) has been doing this for exploration and mining since 1997, bringing together national reporting organisations from around the world to agree a set of common definitions and a reporting template to facilitate trust-building between operators and stakeholders, including investors and regulators as well as impacted parties and civil society representatives. CRIRSCO organisations are now integrating ESG considerations, with SAMESG leading the way in 2016.
Teresa Steele-Schober and Roger Dixon explained that this means moving beyond sustainability reporting to meet thresholds of competent person reporting, making explicit requirements of considerations already embedded in resource and reserve definition; the goal is to create more clarity for stakeholders on environmental, social and governance factors that can affect project feasibility. This has entailed selecting sustainability considerations from all frameworks and standards by carefully assessing their relevance (the “so what ?” challenge): as a result, this common language is both levelling and raising the playing field among operators, with a higher disclosure threshold on key risks and impacts for exploration, development and mining projects.
This complements the holistic, cross-sector approach of the United Nations Resource Management System; this overarching framework aims to encompass all natural resource and is best applied as a strategic planning tool at regional, national or even international level. Eva Marquis gave a masterful presentation of the system and its proposed application to the portfolio of mineral, energy and ancillary projects envisaged in South-West England, bringing clarity to a framework that can be dauntingly complicated to manoeuvre!
What we do
We also heard of trust-building practices through transparency, from Katie Fedosenko of Teck Resources, focusing on power of story-telling. Katie discussed the courage that disclosure can require, and the humility needed to accept that more data can entail lower performance numbers as understanding of situations evolve; through examples of successful change initiatives in occupational health and safety, she encouraged us to get comfortable with incomplete data, imperfect understanding and the lack of agreed definitions to start a movement for improvement incorporating enough flexibility to adjust course as necessary. An inspiration to embrace the complexity and look for a coalition of change-makers rather than reporting perfection when it comes to matters of direct concern to stakeholders including employees and their families.
This very much echoed the change masterclass by Paul Hubley and George Haas, cheekily entitled Our Mining Project Brings The Solution! So Then What’s The(ir) Problem? and focused on building trust through understanding and respect starting with sound problem formulation. They described their experience implementing concept mapping to compare the community’s cognitive perception and the technical concept of the problem, as a starting point to define objectives for site clean-up project. This discussion highlighted the difficulty for experts of shifting their technical view of issues and accepting the resulting scope redefinition; addressing this requires strong governance practices, enabling management to take accountability for this dialogue and empower the parties.
And who we are
Michael Barron and Tim Law, independent consultants who advise governments on four continents on implementing effective beneficial ownership reporting systems, delved into the topic of how this information can be found, assessed and used to increase transparency across mineral value chains which are global, often opaque, always complex and increasingly strategic. In their discussion of Building Trust Using Beneficial Ownership Transparency they demonstrated that beneficial ownership information can play an important part in reducing the risks to business and building trust; and beyond that, companies who take a proactive approach to beneficial ownership transparency can gain a commercial advantage and contribute to reinforcing the integrity of supply chains.
The session concluded with the inspirational discussion by Kady Seguin and Hamado DERRA of IMPACT’s initiative and report, Financing the Unbanked: How Community Savings Groups Can Create Pathways for Legal Artisanal Gold in Burkina Faso. Having examined how artisanal gold miners and traders are stuck in a cycle of illegality, without access to formal financial institutions and leaving them dependent on informal and predatory lenders, IMPACT’s financial inclusion projects and research demonstrate that any efforts to introduce artisanal gold mining communities to formal and legal trade must be accompanied with access to financing. They discussed the successful examples of achieving this through community savings groups which can serve as an effective first entry-point for financial inclusion and formalisation.
This was a striking example of communities moving past system failure by taking ownership of their destiny and a reminder that every stakeholder is an actor for problem solving: by building trust in themselves, communities have demonstrated they can and should be trusted by financial actors to enable responsible production of minerals. This is important to all mineral value chain actors because the lessons learnt in informal gold will be key to addressing emerging informal production challenges in critical minerals worldwide.
Panellists concluded that key takeaways included:
Embracing the complexity
Considering every stakeholder as an actor in solution development and successful outcomes
Making a start on complex issues to trigger a movement for change, rather than focusing on having all information and/or achieving reporting perfection
Having the courage to be equally open about failures, attempts and successes, creating what can be perceived as vulnerability but also opportunities to connect
Developing empathy to get beyond assumptions of what other stakeholders can understand and take away from dialogue
Insights from Day 1, session 1, by Ludivine Wouters for Responsible Raw Materials: