Bernardo M. Villegas
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published: Sep 27, 2019






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Nickel Mining Can Be Sustainable (Part 3)

          The way forward for the Philippine nickel mining industry is to integrate sustainable and responsible policies and practices in its core business.  The current push for voluntary sustainable mechanisms (codes, policies, guidelines), for example, is a positive step towards integrating social responsibility as part of the mining agenda.  At present, there are several methods used to incorporate sustainability into the core business of mining enterprises.  Among these are:

         --Industry-specific codes of conduct such as the Chamber of Mines Code of Corporate Social Responsibility.

         --Company-specific (internal) codes of conduct and policies.

       --Sustainability guidelines from international institutions such as World Bank disclosure policy, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)

         --Pressure from civil society.

         The application of these methods will surely have long-term positive benefits as can be gleaned from the experiences of other mineral-rich countries.  These include:

     --Raising the acceptable threshold for mining industry sustainability performance and standards;

         --Providing some leverage upon which mining stakeholders can hold companies accountable if a company fails to implement its own code or policy;

         --Raising awareness of external factors affecting the core business activity and financial viability of mining firms.

         It is even more important than ever to demonstrate that industry support for sustainability goes beyond mere rhetoric and is translated into concrete action on the ground.  The Philippine nickel industry has to counter prevailing perception that supporting sustainability is only a public relations gimmick but really involves a change of priorities.  To accomplish this, the industry can come up with an industry sustainability code which is not only transparent but open to independent monitoring and verification by third party experts and the academe.  Some degree of third-part involvement must be in place to ensure transparency and accountability.  Furthermore, for sustainability codes to raise the bar of industry performance, it must be based on minimum internationally agreed standards such as the ILO code of human rights among others.  The industry needs to put in place “Disciplinary” measures for members who refuse to sign or adhere to the industry code, policies and guidelines.

         More than other economic sectors, the mining industry cannot be left to free market forces alone.  The role of the government is indispensable.  Experience in other countries has shown that it is vital that governments themselves are genuinely committed to needed mining reforms and these reforms command a strong degree of government support and regulation.  In the case of sustainability, the government, or more specifically the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) itself must be strongly committed to the “government case” for pursuing the sustainability agenda.  It cannot be achieved by prescription from external agencies.  The “government case” has to be built up by a process of dialogue, which in turn means creating or adapting institutional frameworks for discussion, consolation and negotiation.  The process by means of which the MGB eventually builds sustainability policies is as important at the policies themselves.  Dialogues must be the core in the development of sustainability policy for the nickel mining industry.

         It must also be kept in mind that “voluntary” sustainability mechanisms are not easy solutions to all mining dilemmas.  It is imperative that partnership with non-corporate stakeholders is established to achieve the necessary improvements.  These partnerships can yield the following advantages:  they can confer greater legitimacy to mining activities because of multi-stakeholder involvement; they can encourage companies to work together to raise the bar of performance; they can allow mining firms to share capacity building costs; and they can allow corporations to address external factors beyond their core business activity.  In this regard, a strong link between academe, industry and government can help the “business case” for sustainability.  As an example, the University of Asia and the Pacific, through its Center for Corporate Responsibility, can assist the government and the nickel industry to establish sustainability policy and structure, training and communication, stakeholder dialogue and measurement and verification systems.  The products of such partnership among academe, government and business can come out with the following:

         --Nickel Industry Sustainability policy and structure.  Clear standards and detailed guidelines are needed to ensure that the industry has a “road map” for incorporating sustainability agenda into its operations.  With such details, the industry would be able to measure performance consistently and completely to help meet the stakeholders’ expectations.

         --Training and communication.  Training internal staff is needed because of the recognition that sustainability-type programs require a unique set of skills and competencies.  On the other hand, because leadership starts at the top, it is essential for top management to consistently communicate sustainability guidelines internally in order to generate awareness and on convey management support for the program.

         --Stakeholder dialogue.  Dialogue and sharing of information with external parties (companies, civil society) is one of the fundamental shifts in recent years in policy making.  NGOs, other civil society organizations, and companies often have information otherwise unavailable to companies or governments.  In the case of the nickel mining industry, an academic institution like UA&P with strong links to business may be able to help the industry develop guidelines and policies that are not only effective, but also acceptable and credible to all the stakeholders.

         Monitoring and verification.  A research wing or think tank of an academic institution like UA&P may be a more credible institution to effectively assess compliance of nickel mining firms to various voluntary sustainability mechanisms.  Because of serious violations of environmental regulations in the past, the mining industry in general continues to face a public that is skeptical of its efforts to respect and protect the environment.  The industry may choose to scrutinize sustainability practices of nickel firms in a more transparent manner by inviting external parties, and by issuing public reports on the findings of independent academic or research institutions.

           There is no question that the Philippine nickel industry is capable of practising responsible and sustainable mining.  As discussed above, what is needed is the political will of all the stakeholders concerned to commit themselves to a continuing dialogue on sustainability practices.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.