Saturday 28 January 2023

Archbishop helps launch new initiative to clean up mining

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba interrupted his summer leave this week to attend the launch at the London Stock Exchange of a new initiative to reform the mining industry so that it does not harm people and damage the environment. 

The new "Global Investor Commission on Mining 2030" is also supported by Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and by the global investor network, Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI). It is being advised by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Reporting on the launch, Reuters news agency observed: "As well as high-profile disasters and the displacement of communities, the mining sector has been responsible for widespread damage to nature and biodiversity worldwide, such as to forests which absorb planet-heating carbon dioxide emissions," 

Now, Reuters reported: "The commission hopes to achieve wide-ranging reform in the industry so that it causes no harm to people and the environment, aligning investors and companies behind best practices to handle risks like social conflicts and nature loss."

More background:

Mining Review Africa: New commission launched to raise mining sustainability

New UN-backed investor commission aims to raise mining sustainability standards by 2030

The full text of Archbishop Thabo's address follows:

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen; it is good to be at this summit, and thank you for this opportunity to speak to you.

Thank you to Adam and his team, who are driving so much positive change in the mining sector, to the chief executives who are joining us today, to the NGOs, investors and the miners; to everyone gathered today, thank you for your attendance and your commitment. Our deliberations are critically important, since we all share a common interest – namely to improve the world we live in. To have brought together a gathering reflecting such great diversity but with a common purpose of shared success based on a new model of shared values, makes today a special day. 

Thank you also to Archbishop Welby for the wise words delivered to us through my colleague and friend Bishop David today, for bringing the contribution of faith into this important conversation, and for opening up crucial avenues for reflection.

It's a particular privilege for me to join you, since the Courageous Conversations that we've held in a South African context have taught me an appreciation and a respect for the complexities, the joys, the sadness and the opportunities which come with the field of mining. Put in the language of faith, we are faced with the task of mining for society’s moral minerals and the morality in a minerals world.

In the foundational literature of my faith tradition – shared of course with the Jewish tradition – there is an insightful line describing days such as this as being days which the Lord has made, days which invite us to respond by rejoicing. A close reading of our texts reveals that the day is fit for rejoicing precisely because impossible dreams have been realised, historical absurdities have been overturned, a different future is now being envisaged and fresh energy is being poured into the project of making all things new.

The cluster of psalms in the Bible which include those words find purpose in asking for the good, and today, in these deliberations, I believe that we are on the cusp of a day such as that and retrieving a purpose such as that. (Ps 118, v24) I want to suggest that part of what we are seeking at this time, all of us together, is developing and nurturing solidarity, that key social virtue that has in recent times become the underpinning of engagement amongst so many varied voices and competing standpoints. 

Extending Archbishop Welby’s contribution, I want to underline my reflection by turning to a traditional tool used by people of faith, a tool which helps us to discern a way forward which will give a public face and understanding to our privately-held beliefs. I am referring to the tool of “See, Judge, Act”, which helps us to stop, stand back from a situation and reflect on it before we take action. 

The thelogian, Christine Firer Hinze, has described working to achieve solidarity as discerning “the interdependency of all peoples within earth's habitats” and working “collaboratively for the shared good of all people and the planet.” She adds: “In a world of radically unequal power and opportunities, one way towards justice and a better life for all, is... about cultivating these practices of solidarity, which is indeed using the power and capability of all of us.” I believe that the tool, “See, Judge, Act”, offers us a way of looking at key social concepts and especially at concepts that speak to the mining sector’s contribution to this better world, with an emphasis on the sector's commitment to what we call “just sustainability”.

The central importance of mining to human life cannot be overstated. Mining is quite simply a major basis for our existence as we know it, and it behoves all of us from our various disciplines to ensure that it works for the common good. George Orwell, the author best known for his book Animal Farm and a lifelong socialist, once said of mining that it is “part of the metabolism of life.” Indeed, key periods of history are known by the minerals which dominated their ages: the Copper Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, for example. 

But as the 21st century unfolds, all of us who recognise how mining underpins our societies need to ensure that it develops in ways that are in harmony with, and do not conflict with, new patterns of human thought and behaviour; that it is a welcome and valued partner in society, accepted as promoting the common good. In our fascinating discussions I hear people talk of the thinking of Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb about a political economy that emphasises sustainable, economically and democratically healthy local communities that are anchored by wealth-democratising strategies, policies and institutions.

In such an environment, mining needs a social licence to operate. What is a social licence to operate? It is fundamentally a compact, an unwritten agreement, between a company – faceless, filled with individuals who each have their own objectives and desires – and a society - faceless, filled with individuals who each have their own objectives and desires. 

In the case of mining, the company manifests physically as an operation; a hole in the ground, a series of tailings dams and waste rock dumps, such as those in Soweto, Johannesburg where I grew up. Negatively, it can manifest as dust and noise, and the immigration of strangers into the area. But it also manifests as employment, as opportunity and economic activity. Similarly, it can manifest as disappointment over broken promises, as anger over lost land, changed lives and livelihoods. But it can also manifest as joy over improving infrastructure and services and as hope for better lives. 

Society too manifests itself with difficult faces. Human progress and the potential to flourish are dependent on mining and minerals. But social media amplifies voices opposed to mining. As the push for green energy continues, the minerals which enable the transition become ever more scarce and critical. Mining companies must seek out minerals and invest in regions which are often unstable, often violent, so the scramble for mineral-based wealth can increase the instability and violence. 

Africa, my home, still suffers from the effects of colonisation, when colonial powers built their enormous wealth through exploitation, and then left behind fractured countries and broken people. It has been said that we are starting to see a second colonisation now, as the need for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Green Energy minerals drives exploitation again – where the minerals and money go to the northern hemisphere to drive their green, “just”, transition, and all that is left behind is infrastructure and development without the means to maintain it. 

The social licence teeters continuously on a knife’s wedge for the individual mining company. To overcome this, to achieve lasting stability, I believe the mining sector as a whole needs to work for something more. If we are to see a more peaceful, more just, and more prosperous world in the future, we need a social compact that revisits the very nature of capitalism and value.

The American philosopher Naomi Zack has asked, “If our government has broken the social contract and no longer serves the interests of the people, can citizens have faith that they are better off with government than without it?” She advocates that when that happens, perhaps it is time “to shift our focus from the idea of a social contract — between the government and citizens — to the idea of a social compact — direct interaction and agreement among citizens and social institutions for the common good.”

This is an investors' conference, so why all the talk about social compacts? Because the era of exploitative capitalism is coming to an end as people discover increasing agency to create change, whether through democracy, advocacy, or violence. The tightrope that any mining company must walk in order to maintain their social licence is increasingly tied up with whether they have a working social compact with the communities they exist in. 

At our Days of Courageous Conversation, as I listen and try to understand the wisdom, the concerns, the anxieties, the fears and the hopes and dreams of those who take part, I hear thoughts such as these emerge. As I leave them with you for your reflection and consideration, allow me to conclude by reiterating that the world needs you to safely produce the minerals critical to life as we know it. But to ensure that you fulfil  your God-given roles, we must all work together to find ways of ensuring positive change and to pursue the common good so that the mining sector meets the weighty demands of our time.

On a pragmatic ending, if I have sparked a degree of curiosity in you regarding mining the moral mineral,  I offer these two invitations: first, support the Investor Commission and the Global institute launched yesterday, and second, I invite you to one of our SA conversations when next in South Africa.

I thank you. God bless you and God bless the whole mining industry and its broader communities.

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