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Mining companies committed to UN human rights principles: study

New research released Monday indicates that listed mining and resources companies across the world are keen to comply with the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were officially adopted one year ago, but must keep up the momentum in order to maintain public confidence in their efforts.

The survey, carried out by audit and advisory firm Mazars, collated the responses of mining companies listed on the London, Johannesburg, Toronto, and the Australian stock exchanges. It revealed that 94% of respondents agreed that mining firms should take responsibility for compliance with human rights within their own organisations and those of their subcontractors.  Encouragingly, it also found that 65% of respondents were actively working towards compliance with the Principles.

However, comparatively fewer respondents (55%) said they were planning to implement their own human rights policies and procedures as a priority over the next two years. Smaller proportions of those questioned confirmed they were documenting their compliance in accordance with UN guidelines (40%) or seeking external evaluation of their compliance with the agenda (37%).

Richard Karmel, who leads Mazars’ human rights advisory practice in the UK, said “Human rights compliance should appear on the corporate governance agenda for all international corporations as a matter of course.  By correctly addressing the human rights agenda, a corporation demonstrates that it is listening to its work force, and creates a dialogue to enable an understanding of the issues workers face”.

Since setting up its award winning Human Rights Audit practice, Mazars has observed that many corporations in the mining industry need help to move from principles to processes that actively address human rights issues.  Mr Karmel added “However, for all that good intention, we find that many mining firms still require our help to turn good principles into good business practice”.

One way of demonstrating a commitment to human rights is to allow an independent third-party to audit your compliance with international standards; encouragingly, already 37% are looking do so.

The evaluation of existing compliance with the human rights agenda is the first step that all corporations should undertake towards full agreement with the guiding principles.  While every policy needs to be bespoke to each individual corporation, Mr Karmel feels that there are some key steps companies should take to make sure their subcontractors share their commitment to human rights:

  • Education: informing subcontractors how they can address the human rights issue
  • Communication: an understanding from both sides as to why this is so important
  • Assessment: the subcontractor will need to assess its key risk areas for compliance
  • Monitoring: the corporation will need to monitor/audit how the subcontractor is performing
  • Support: the corporation should support the subcontractor in its compliance and use the benefits of its own experiences.

Earlier this year, Mazars won the ‘Audit Innovation of the Year’ award for its “Human Rights Audit” practice at the inaugural International Accounting Bulletin (IAB) Awards.

Mazars’ framework is based on the Internal Control Framework issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organisations of the Treadway Commission and the Best Practice in Human Rights, as developed by the Danish Institute for Human rights.