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Mining with Principles: Stories of transformation

15 April 2024

Good morning everyone. I wore this colourful vest today so that in case you find my speech boring and forget what I said, at least you will remember the sight of me! Actually, I wore it for a specific reason, which I will tell you about later.

Keynote speech at CESCO Week 2024
Rohitesh Dhawan, President and CEO, ICMM (as written rather than as delivered)

I want to do this by telling you three stories; of Maria, Mbasa and Andi – I’ve changed some of their names and details to protect their identities.

Maria is a 32 year old woman who lives in the Choapa Valley in Los Pelambres district here in Chile. A few years ago, she had a decent job in the town but wanted to make more money, be independent, and learn new skills. She knew about the Los Pelambres mine at the top of the valley and many of her friends worked there, but she thought as a young woman who didn’t have any mining skills, she could never get a job there herself.

Last year when I got to ride with her in a 250-tonne dump truck, she had been doing the job for 2 years already and couldn’t be happier... And she feels proud about contributing to the development of her community

Then, she heard about a programme from Antofagasta Minerals to train women like her to drive mining haul trucks. She wasn’t sure if she could do it and was worried that the men wouldn’t accept her, and she even worried about her safety. But she applied – and after a period of training, she accepted a job as a haul truck driver.

Last year when I got to ride with her in a 250-tonne dump truck, she had been doing the job for 2 years already and couldn’t be happier. The shifts are hard work, but she enjoys the challenge, earns much more than before, and gets extended periods of holiday to spend with her friends and family. And she feels proud about contributing to the development of her community – after all, 80 per cent of the economy of the Choapa Valley and 25 per cent of the district of Los Pelambres is because of the mine.

Maria is an example of someone whose life has been fundamentally changed – a person who has a greater sense of identity, pride in themselves and in their community, and a better economic future for them, their families, and their future generations. This is the power of responsible mining – it reaches communities in the heartlands of countries which otherwise would have few other opportunities.

I tell you the story of Maria not to pretend like the mining industry only has stories like Maria’s. We must acknowledge there were 33 people who went to work at ICMM member companies in 2022 and never came home. While that is down nearly two-thirds in 10 years, it is still 33 too many. It is and will remain our priority as an industry to keep everyone safe and healthy at work, and we have a lot of work still to do.

This is why ICMM companies are working on a flagship initiative called Innovation for Cleaner, Safer Vehicles. We are collaborating with the manufacturers of mining vehicles to deploy technologies that will reduce Diesel Particulate Emissions and Greenhouse gases, and reduce the risk of accidents with people – which is one of the leading causes of fatalities in the mining industry.

Our commitment to health and safety starts with physical safety but goes beyond. We are committed to making our workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive and to root out all forms of discrimination, bullying and harassment – which, we must acknowledge, happens today at mine sites around the world with unacceptable frequency.

Mbasa’s family, like many, have few resources, and his mother suffers from poor health... Today, Mbasa has completed his law studies and is on his way to becoming a lawyer.

And this is why ICMM members committed to a series of individual and collective goals and actions in the last two years on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. It is also why members committed to reporting their Social & Economic contributions consistently across eight key indicators, and to breaking that down by gender and ethnicity where possible.

So, the story of Maria is a reminder of the opportunity and responsibility that mining companies have to change lives for the better, and in a way that few other industries ever can. Before I move on to my next story, I want to acknowledge the role that Chile – and one person in particular – has had on the attitudes towards responsible mining of the entire mining industry globally.

The commitments I mentioned above, on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and many more that I’ll share later, have occurred in the last two years under the Chairmanship of ICMM by Ivan Arriagada, the CEO of Antofagasta Minerals. Ivan has led the Council of his fellow CEOs, who jointly account for one-third of the global mining industry across 24 companies and around 650 sites globally, in making these commitments and in delivering to what we have promised.

I am proud to have served as CEO under Ivan’s Chairmanship, and Ivan has made Chileans proud in leading the industry to an ever more responsible future. His legacy, and that of Chile, is firmly imprinted on the history of mining globally. 

Now, I’d like to tell you the story of Mbasa. He is a 20-something year old young man from a town called Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape of my home country of South Africa. A country with an unemployment rate of 32 per cent and one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Mbasa’s family, like many, have few resources, and his mother suffers from poor health. A few years ago, there was no hope of Mbasa being able to afford the fees for university, which in turn was the only chance of their family having a different future.

Today, Mbasa has completed his law studies and is on his way to becoming a lawyer. This was made possible thanks to a bursary from Gold Fields, who have recently produced first gold at their Salares Norte project here in Chile. Gold Fields expected no direct return from funding Mbasa’s studies, other than to help contribute back to the country where they operate. This is what true commitment to building the nations where mining happens looks like.

In fact, the mining industry is one of the few sectors keeping the South African economy going in difficult times. It was one of the only sectors to create new jobs in 2023, and its contribution to taxes, local procurement, and foreign exchange are a lifeline for the national economy and the regions where mining happens.

This is true for responsible miners globally. In 2022, ICMM members reported Corporate Income Tax (CIT) and royalties of US$54.9bn, an increase of 77.8 per cent from 2021 – which represent some of the largest sources of revenue for governments worldwide. In fact, from 2013 to 2022, ICMM members paid US$271.3bn in total corporate income tax and royalty payments. This translates to US$36 out of every US$100 of profit earned by those companies being paid in corporate income tax and royalties – and that is aside from investments in community development, infrastructure, and local procurement in the regions where we operate.

The story of Mbasa, and the statistics of mining’s contribution to local economies shows how the sector is often the backbone of the development of entire regions and countries. Our commitment to doing exactly that is the reason that ICMM members are the first group of companies in any sector to commit to reporting the taxes we pay on a country by country basis. It is also why we committed to making public the contracts we entered into or amended since 1 January 2021 with governments, wherever we operate. And it is why we have been a strong supporter of the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative for the last decade.

Finally, let me tell you the story of Andi. Andi is not even their real name, or even a real being – Andi is a sculpture of a flamingo made out of recycled metal. In fact, it is sitting very nicely in the coffee and breakfast hall – and it’ll be there all day today, so go say hello, take a picture with it and please tag me and ICMM on social media. And Andi is in fact the reason I am wearing this vest today, as it makes me feel connected to the vibrance and life-giving force of nature.

The reason we created Andi was to remind us of the power of the mining industry to persevere nature, and to also destroy it. The inspiration for Andi came from my visit to a place called Ite; which is on the coast of Peru. Ite today is Peru’s largest wetland and one of the most important ecosystems in all of Latin America.

It has been made possible by Southern Copper, a mining company that is part of Grupo Mexico. For the last 15 years, through dedicated investments and management, Southern Copper has created a site of extraordinary natural beauty and biodiversity. It is 12 km long and 1.5 km wide and supports over 150 species of birds, including flamingos like Andi. Standing at the banks of the wetland, you see vast expanses of pristine habitat and thriving bird and fish populations in the crystal clear water.

But it wasn’t always like this. Until about 20 years ago, Ite was the site for the dumping of mine tailings from the copper mining operation. Looking at pictures from that time, there was little nature or sign of life as a result of decades of tailings deposition. That was done legally of course, but it is clearly a much better solution to have constructed a new tailings dam, freeing up the site for nature to thrive.

This was the spirit behind the landmark commitment on nature positive made by ICMM companies earlier this year. We have committed to ensuring at least no net loss of biodiversity at all sites by closure relative to a 2020 baseline, in addition to working in our value chains, landscapes and the financial system to help halt and reverse the loss of nature.

This is made possible by amazing nature conservation initiatives such as Antofagasta Minerals who, at Los Pelambres, are protecting 27,000 hectares of land – an area six times larger than that impacted by their mining operations.

Other leading companies are making similar efforts, such as Teck Resources. Teck has committed to protecting or conserving at least three hectares of land for every hectare disturbed by mining, and have partnered with the community to develop a biodiversity conservation area for the Alconcha Salt Flat, a unique and high-value wetland ecosystem near QB; a first of its kind. The company has also donated $10m to help protect one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world – the Juan Fernández Islands in the South Pacific, located 670km off the coast of Chile. Similarly, since 2013, Codelco has been working on ecological restoration activities in the wetlands in Quintero Bay, with extraordinary results for the richness and abundance of species.

And so, the story of Andi reminds us of the magic that can happen when we give nature a chance, and how responsible mining companies are having a positive impact on land, plants and animals on a scale that is significantly larger than what they disturb.

In conclusion, rather than repeat what I said, I want to point out what I did not say. Many of you might have expected that, as the head of the international body representing the mining industry, I would have talked about the importance of minerals and metals to the energy transition. That without copper, lithium and other commodities, we cannot decarbonise our economies, and that the demand for our products are set to increase massively. All of that is entirely true, but there’s a particular reason I did not mention it.

That is because we are seeking to be a mining industry which people will want in their countries even if our products were not critical. An industry that adds as much value in “how” it operates as in “what” we produce. The kind of industry that builds nations and creates prosperity through our operations and the way we partner with governments and civil society. The fact that our products decarbonise the global economy and make modern life possible is the cherry on the cake. It is not a reason to mine at all costs – if anything, it is a reason to take even greater care. In other words, our products are critical but we aim to mine them as if they were not.

That’s the level of care and concern for our host countries and communities that is at the heart of our commitment to responsible mining. So, long after you’ve forgotten me, I hope you’ll remember this vest, and the stories of Maria, Mbasa and Andi to remind us of the power of responsible mining to change lives for the better.