The International Council On Mining & Metals: Voice Of An Enlightened International Mining Industry

Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Paul Mitchell, Secretary General, International Council on Mining & Metals.

Editor: Mr. Mitchell, would you tell us something about your career prior to joining ICMM?

My original training was in science, engineering and city planning. My early career involved government service for a short period of time and then consulting. In 1984 I established a partnership with a colleague for the purpose of developing a national - in this case Australian - environmental consulting company. In 1994 we then joined ERM - Environmental Resources Management - a global environmental services company, in which I was responsible for the Australasian section of the business. The international mining practice of this enterprise was headquartered in Australia, and much of what I did involved testifying as an expert witness. In 2000 I took the opportunity of pursuing a long time aspiration of working in international development. CARE Australia, where I was CEO, is the country's lead agency in this regard. We were responsible for CARE International's programs in a number of very challenging places, including Iraq, Myanmar and the Balkans.

Editor: How did you come to ICMM?

When I became aware of the position, I thought it offered me an opportunity to bring together my previous experience in the mining sector with my environmental and international development background. It appeared to be an unusually interesting opportunity.

Editor: Please tell us about ICMM.

The organization was founded in 2001. During the 1999 World Economic Forum in Davos, a group of CEOs from the mining industry devised the Global Mining Initiative, which aimed to examine the role of the industry in the context of sustainable development. As part of this process, a global leadership organization for the minerals industries was established. ICMM evolved from an earlier organization referred to as ICME - the International Council on Metals in the Environment - that had been established some ten years earlier.

The current members of ICMM are 15 corporate members and 27 industry association members. The corporate members include most of the leading corporations in the global mining/metals industry, and the association members are commodity groups or national mining and metals councils. Since ICMM is a CEO-led organization, it is only the CEOs of the member groups who sit on the ICMM Council, which is our board of directors.

Editor: What is the mission of ICMM?

Our mission is to bring together the leaders of the mining, minerals and metals industry to share the challenges and the responsibilities of issues of common concern at the international level. The organization's members believe that the industry's continued access to land, capital and markets depends upon its demonstrated ability to contribute successfully to sustainable development. ICMM provides strategic industry leadership and a common platform from which to engage with other key international constituencies in the sustainable development agenda.

Editor: How do you go about translating that mission into action?

Of course, it is easier to talk about these things than to actually do them, but we start with a set of sustainable development principles. These principles cover such things as human rights, ethical business practices, the integration of sustainable development considerations into the corporate decision-making process, transparency in business and financial reporting, environmental stewardship, the use, re-use and recycling of the industry's products, and so on. They have been formally adopted by the ICMM Council and, therefore, by our member companies. With this foundation in place, we look at a range of initiatives that will enable us to address these principles in a concrete way. The sustainable development agenda is something that is evolving, so the implementation of the principles our governing board has adopted is responsive to a changing set of priorities.

Editor: And those priorities are set in the international discussion on sustainable development?

Yes. We have, for example, a very close working relationship with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The Bank is, of course, an active investor in the mining sector, and we actively participated in the Extractive Industries Review that the Bank established. The IFC is reviewing its environmental guidelines and safeguard policies, and we have an advisory role in this review which is both very detailed and very extensive. We also deal with the Bank on the ground, so to speak. We have undertaken joint sponsorship with the Bank of a project known as the Community Tools project, which is meant to enhance the socioeconomic contribution that the mining industry makes to the communities in which it operates. ICMM is attempting to maximize the benefits of the revenues that flow into these communities, as well as the employment and training opportunities, as a consequence of mining industry operations. We are engaged in a dialogue with IUCN - the World Conservation Union - on mining and biodiversity, and we are working with the United Nations Environment Program - UNEP - to develop a program to minimize the occurrence and harmful effects of environmental emergencies and technological accidents. The Global Reporting Initiative - GRI - is an organization with UN partner status which is focussed on the development of sustainability reporting guidelines. We are working with the GRI on indicators which are specific to the mining industry and compatible with ICMM's Sustainable Development Principles. All of this is part of the international discussion on sustainable development, and ICMM is in the middle of it. In a sense, we are both helping to set that agenda and responding to it.

Editor: Can you tell us something about the ethical business practices and corporate governance systems that ICMM supports?

We believe that ethical business practices must start at the top. That is, the governing board of the organization must commit in some way - and the formal adoption of a set of written guidelines is encouraged - to conducting its activities in an ethical manner, utilizing the best practices of good corporate governance. Among other things, the formal adoption of such a commitment serves to inhibit bribery and corruption at the local level, while supporting compliance with host country laws and the accepted standards of international business behavior.

ICMM is strongly committed to transparency in financial reporting and in the payment of revenues due to host governments, so we are active participants in the British government's Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Indeed, we have acted in a formal advisory capacity to the British government on this initiative, and we have publicly endorsed it. We believe that this is an undertaking that needs to be taken further, so that government disbursement of revenues from mining is also fully and openly reported, and we are doing what we can to see that that happens.

Editor: Many mining activities take place in countries that are still developing. What can you say about good corporate citizenship in such countries?

As a general proposition, I can say that good corporate citizenship makes for good business. In addition to contributing to the economy and to the social development of local communities, developing infrastructure such as building schools and hospitals is going to promote a local workforce that is content and contributes to local stability, which is necessary for business to flourish. Good corporate citizenship is certainly important for an enterprise's public image and reputation. I hasten to add, however, that it is sustainable development that is at the heart of ICMM's philosophy. We encourage our members to act as good corporate citizens in the communities in which they operate by trying to develop the local capacity to, say, build - and maintain - schools and hospitals. We believe that such an approach results in a more permanent improvement in the lives of local people than one in which the corporation simply gives the facility to the community and walks away.

Editor: ICMM has established some task forces which focus on some of the really key issues on the ICMM agenda. Would you tell us about those task forces and what you hope to accomplish?

We have a task force on the sustainable development framework, which focuses on corporate accountability through application of the ICMM principles and the GRI-developed reporting framework. Once that reporting framework is established, we will be looking at such things as third party verification. Then there is the task force on community and social development, which looks at community involvement and is attempting to clarify and enhance the contribution our industry makes to the communities in which it carries on its operations. Relations with indigenous peoples fall within the realm of this task force. There is also a task force on materials stewardship, which has to do with stewardship from the extraction of materials from the ground through their cycle of use, re-use and ultimate disposal. The task force on workplace health and safety deals with systems responsive to accidents, emergencies and the like, with particular reference to the communities in which these events take place. This particular task force is the one that is working with UNEP. We also have a task force which is charged with developing industry positions and then implementing global advocacy strategies to inform the international policy discussion on issues which concern our industry. Another task force is responsible for environment stewardship and is examining issues like the interface between mining and biodiversity and land use planning.

Editor: What about the future? What do you hope to accomplish during your time as ICMM's Secretary General?

I would like to see ICMM doing more in the way of implementation. We are very good at coming up with the concepts and principles that should guide the international mining and metals industry, and we are good at developing them to the point where they are accepted by the industry. I think it is important for us to show more in the way of tangible outcomes. If we succeed in doing so, both ICMM and the industry for which it speaks are going to be recognized and, indeed, applauded for their efforts.

Editor: Are the international forums a good pulpit for you in that regard?

Yes, they are. The mining and metals industry is as old as civilization, and I think that everyone is aware that it has had a troubled history. That has made it difficult for us to get our message across in the past. Today the international forums permit us to be heard, and that makes for a dialogue, a reasonable discussion that addresses the issues and, ideally, permits all parties to participate in the development of solutions. That, of course, makes for better solutions.

Let me add that ICMM is only three years old. We have made good progress to date, but the implementation of change across a large and very diverse industry is a real challenge and takes time. With the kind of foundation that is being laid, however, I am confident that we will move from concept to implementation and end result. From my vantage point the future looks very bright.