Mining industry must improve human rights, environment protection — index

Artisanal miners digging for diamonds in Marange. (Image courtesy of Human Rights Watch.)

The world’s biggest mining companies must improve their human rights record and step up efforts to curb environmental damage, the Responsible Mining Foundation said in its first review of global mining practices.

The Responsible Mining Index, launched in Geneva on Wednesday, assesses the policies and practices of 30 large companies that produce 25 percent of mined commodities, from gold to copper and coal, operating in more than 40 countries.

Many have established good policies on some issues such as tackling corruption and limiting planet-warming emissions, a report on the index said.

But most have taken little action in other areas, including monitoring how mining affects children and protecting female workers from harassment and sexual exploitation, it added.

Hélène Piaget, CEO of the Responsible Mining Foundation, said the results showed many companies had introduced responsible mining policies but these were not always “translated into effective actions”.

The report said responsible mining was “a realistic goal”. But the adverse consequences of mining minerals and metals, such as high worker fatalities, prevent many companies from achieving the standards society expects from the industry, it added.

Across the 30 companies, 331 workplace deaths were reported in 2015 and 2016, it noted.

The index ranked companies on six operational areas, including working conditions, environmental responsibility and ethical business conduct.

Multinational mining firm Anglo American Plc was the strongest performer overall due to its investment in the economies of producing countries, human-rights due diligence and engagement with local communities, the report said.

An Anglo American spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the company had launched a new sustainability strategy focused on diversity, gender equality and environmental responsibility.

Last year it introduced a code of conduct for all employees that encourages responsible mining, he added.

Nearly two-thirds of companies scored well on at least one area of the index, but performed badly on others.

AngloGold Ashanti, for example, ranked first for working conditions but was not in the top ten for economic development.

Chris Nthite, a spokesman for Johannesburg-based AngloGold Ashanti, welcomed the index’s focus on stronger sustainability in the industry. The firm would study the findings as it works to improve its mining practices, he added.

Nineteen of the 30 companies ranked among the top-ten performers in at least one of the index areas, indicating good potential for improvement, the report said.

The index, available online and due to be updated every two years, aims to provide investors, governments, local communities and others with a knowledge database about each company’s practices, boosting transparency.

Piaget said the foundation hoped its index would lead to more informed dialogue between mining companies, investors, civil society and communities affected by mining.

“We also anticipate that the index will raise awareness among companies of what society expects from (them),” she added.

(Reporting by Isabelle Gerretsen; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit