Investors pressure international mining companies on ESG issues

November 3, 2020

A group of 64 institutional investors representing $10.2 trillion (7.8 trillion pounds) recently contacted the leadership boards of 78 international mining companies. The investors are looking to better understand the relationships between the companies and First Nations and indigenous people as environmental, societal and governance (ESG) issues remain at the forefront of investors minds.

The group of 64 investors and their representatives, including the Church of England Pensions Board and the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), contacted the boards of mining companies operating in Australia and internationally to seek assurances about how they gain their social license to operate with First Nations and Indigenous communities, they said.

“Our collective long-term investment means that we need to have real confidence in how the sector obtains and maintains its social license to operate with First Nations and Indigenous peoples,” the group said in a statement.

The group pointed to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rockshelters in Australia as one of the events that prompted the letter.

“The events at Juukan Gorge have shown this is a significant risk for investors and have prompted us all to take a deeper look at how relationships between companies and First Nations and Indigenous peoples are formed and function over the long period of mine operation and remediation.” The letter was sent to the boards of 78 mining companies including Australian iron ore miners Rio Tinto, BHP Group Ltd and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, as well as to others such as Barrick Gold Corp, Glencore PLC and Brazil's Vale SA.

Reuters reported that Australia has a parliamentary inquiry ongoing into the Juukan Gorge disaster, in which Rio Tinto legally blew up two sacred and historically significant rockshelters in Western Australia to expand an iron ore mine in May.

The inquiry is investigating issues around how mining companies obtain consent from Aboriginal groups in a process that was revealed to have restricted them from objecting to development on their ancestral lands.

Public outcry over the deep distress of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and a push by institutional investors, saw three Rio executives including Chief Executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques lose their jobs.

Since then, other miners such as BHP and Fortescue have been reviewing their heritage management strategies, while planning laws in Western Australia that allowed for the destruction of the sites is under reform.

 

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