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The Draft Responsible Gold Mining Principles and Communities

A few days ago I attended a consultative roundtable discussion on the World Gold Council’s draft Responsible Gold Mining Principles in Johannesburg. Whilst one cannot actually say that the event was well attended, the few of us who were there for the whole event were there to fully participate and we were accorded sufficient time to raise our concerns. It was also a significant improvement (compared to how these consultative processes normally go) to see (very vocal) affected community members present.

I’m not really keen on yet another, relatively toothless set of principles produced for the mining industry, but I do acknowledge the value of such principles in a world where companies, governments, consultants and individuals seem unable to operate on an ethical level. 

This morning I also took the time to respond to the on-line survey about the framework (available here: https://www.gold.org/who-we-are/our-members/responsible-gold/respon...), and I noticed - for the first time, I must admit – the change of wording when issues related to communities are addressed. There are ten principles: (i) Ethical Conduct; (ii) Safety and Health; (iii) Human Rights; (iv) Labour Rights; (v) Working with Communities; (vi) Environmental Stewardship; (vii) Water; (viii) Energy and Climate Change; (ix) Supply Chain; and (x)Transparency and Accountability. Nine out of these use very strong language of intent: “We will” and “We support”; but when it comes to issues related to communities, the language used in the document loses its strength, and it becomes “We aim to…”. 

One wonders when industries (and not just mining or other extractives) will put the same emphasis on issues affecting communities as they do on environmental and labour issues. Granted, environmental and labour issues have been on the table for a couple more decades than community issues, but this is 2018 and not 1995, why must it still be necessary to have to raise hell around the utmost importance of this aspect of mining before it is addressed? What barrier is there in the minds of industry when it comes to social performance issues? [I can list a few, but this might not be the platform, except to say that the affected persons are most often the poorest and the most vulnerable of persons with the least voice, and perhaps they are deemed less important by the industry than all the other issues addressed in these and other principles?]

In my comments submitted online on the draft principles, I have mentioned the unsuitability and undesirability of this soft language when it comes to community issues, especially as this soft approach is not seen anywhere else in the draft principles. One can only hope I am not the only one who cried foul and that notice is taken and this oversight is corrected.

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