MAC/20: Mines and Communities

A typical hugh - and cry!

Published by MAC on 2019-04-03
Source: Critical Resource

Morgan attempts mining marriage

Hugh Morgan is the Executive Chairman & Founder of Arete Capital Partners. He was formerly CEO of Western Mining, Director of Alcoa, Chairman of the World Gold Council, Chairman of International Council on Metals and the Environment (the predecessor to ICMM) and an Executive Committee Member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Business Development.

The following article records a Q&A session  Morgan recently had with the journal Critical Resource, seeking to address "the heightened salience of license-to-operate risks in the mining sector, and the impact of a retreat of majors from difficult jurisdictions".

Not surprisingly - given Morgan's long chequered history of  wading through such fraught  fields - it provides a solipsist and "warts and all", exposition of the sector  [See for example: Native title not to be overlooked in WMC takeover

Mr Morgan opines: "Mining is all about moving that mountain down that railroad onto that ship, while keeping costs low."

This utterly simplistic version of reality is also reflected in his dismissive statement that: "People pontificate on television how we should stop mining activity and decarbonise the world, even though their whole built environment came out of the ground."

Perhaps an appropriate rejoinder would be: "Since Georgian England derived so much of its wealth from slavery, is it therefore wrong to argue for Abolition?

[Comment by MAC editors]

 

“The industry mustn’t retreat from tricky jurisdictions”

Critical Resource

27 March 2019
 
In this exclusive Q&A with Critical Resource, the former CEO of Western Mining and
Chairman of Arete Capital, Hugh Morgan, discusses the heightened salience of
license-to-operate risks in the mining sector, and the impact of a retreat of
majors from difficult jurisdictions.
 
Hugh Morgan is the Executive Chairman & Founder of Arete Capital Partners. He was
formerly CEO of Western Mining, Director of Alcoa, Chairman of the World Gold
Council, Chairman of International Council on Metals and the Environment (the
predecessor to ICMM) and an Executive Committee Member of the World Business
Council for Sustainable Business Development.

License-to-operate challenges have heightened for the mining industry
 
“The mining industry is going through monumental change with one of the most
significant developments being the challenges now posed by license-to-operate
issues. Environmental, social and political issues are now recognised as critical
for business success and not just in places like Africa, South America and Russia,
but increasingly in developed countries, too. In the US, litigation constitutes a
major hazard, while in Australia, the government has behaved appallingly in
several instances, which has dramatically pushed up operational costs and led to
issues that are now being exploited by anti-mining groups.
 
Mining is all about moving that mountain down that railroad onto that ship, while
keeping costs low. In the eyes of employers and employees in the sector, it is a
rigorously engineered process. However, they often fail to see the hazards that
exist in the public sphere, license-to-operate issues and the public’s impressions
of the sector. Companies still don’t understand that the real risk is not the
price, the ore body or their operations – it is their stakeholders. As a result,
they systematically undervalue stakeholder relations and do not adopt the
appropriate behaviour patterns.”
 
Industry governance will be weakened if the western majors retreat from difficult
jurisdictions
 
 “As license-to-operate risks have heightened, companies have tended to respond in
one of two ways. Some have tried to involve external groups more in their response
to environmental, social and governance issues – a sort of “brand protection”. The
other common response is the “retreat programme” whereby companies limit their
exposure to jurisdictions they perceive to be risky. Too little credit has been
given to companies for managing issues well when things have gone wrong and the
result is that the major international mining companies – many of whom are among
the best performers on environmental, social and political issues – are now moving
out of the more difficult countries.
 
An important driver of this retreat has been the increasingly antagonistic
relationship between companies and NGOs. However, the unintended consequence is
that when a company leaves, Chinese investors arrive, and the capacity for
developing countries to deal effectively with issues like corruption is hugely
diminished. This represents a hazard for the host countries, as well as for the
companies themselves. We need to see more instances of effective partnerships
between companies and NGOs to enable the industry to operate in difficult parts of
the world in a way that is beneficial to host governments and communities.”
 
Risks are not reflected in shareholder returns
 
 “Mining finance is difficult for a raft of reasons. Firstly, shareholder returns
do not reflect the business risks, in particular the fact that there is no
alternative use of the investment. In the building sector, if you construct a
residential building but find there’s a shortage of office space, you can adapt
your investment and provide offices instead of apartments. In mining, companies
forget what they’ve spent. They talk about marginal cost and book value but lose
sight of what it really costs to develop an operation.
 
" You also have a shrinking percentage of the finance community that actually
understands the industry. Mining happens in remote places and employs only a small
proportion of the workforce. Additionally, the mining industry by its nature,
provides a lot of opportunity for the press to talk, and much of this coverage
tends to be negative.
 
Streaming has become very popular as a source of finance but my view is that many
of the CEOs that have entered streaming deals don’t fully understand what they’re
getting into. Streaming and royalties firms have been extremely successful but it
has also been a very expensive manner of raising money for companies.”
 
There are some great opportunities in politically difficult countries
 
“There are some great opportunities in politically difficult countries. For
example, Russia offers some great opportunities in gold, but it would be very
difficult to go there at present. A lot of people like the US, but I can’t see
past the litigation system there. It is all about claims and local elections. You
need a pretty good understanding of the system to succeed there.
 
Personally, I think countries go through cycles. Mozambique had its civil war,
then became the darling of the UN and is now looking a bit more fragile again.
That is a transition period of about 40 years. I would have gone to Tanzania six
years ago, but not now. The country is likely to fail in the next seven years, but
then it will start to turn around again.
 
I am deeply involved in a project in Nigeria, where I’ve worked for 15 years. I’m
comfortable there and would much rather go to Abuja than Johannesburg. It’s not
just about the country, however, but becoming accustomed to the area,
understanding the local people and developing good relationships with the right
people. It also takes time and money to establish a reputation as a company that
doesn’t engage in bribery and corruption.”
 
Governments need to support the public image of the mining sector
 
“Whilst safety is the number one issue for reputation within the mining industry,
public acceptance can make or break a company particularly if loss of acceptance
is at the local level. People pontificate on television how we should stop mining
activity and decarbonise the world, even though their whole built environment came
out of the ground. Generally, governments don’t do enough to promote the industry.
They get their huge tax returns and royalties for being the landlord of the
resources, but often they contribute nothing to public relations. When an issue
arises, they run and leave their tenants to flounder.”
 
The threat of undersupply is a political imperative
 
“One issue on the horizon is the insecurity of supply, and this is perhaps best
illustrated by the US’s exposure to rare earth metals. The threat of undersupply
is well recognised but nothing has been done: the response times to these issues
are massive and from a military view, the US is basically incapacitated to do
anything about it. This is currently still going under the radar but it is a
political imperative. In the meantime, the Chinese remain very good at making
available the resources they’ve cornered in return for further investment.”

 

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