MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Trading Credibility - Accreditation scheme for good mines meets with community distrust

Published by MAC on 2003-04-15

Trading Credibility - Accreditation scheme for good mines meets with community distrust

By Bob Burton, The New Internationalist

April 2003

In mid-January the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) unveiled a project to certify mines deemed as good performers. The project involves some of the world's most controversial mining companies. Following a trial in Australia, WWF hope to establish a global mining certification scheme emulating the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

The concept behind certification schemes is simple. A council accredits a natural-resource company's source of supply if it meets set social and environmental criteria. Consumers in the affluent north then pay a premium for products from sources that are certified. In an attempt to ensure integrity in the certification, NGO members help set the standards.

In November 2002 the British-based Rainforest Foundation released a report Trailing in Credibility documenting a more sobering reality. In October 1998 FSC accreditation was awarded to logging operations of the Indonesian state forestry company despite violence against local people and lack of legal logging rights. After protests from community groups, the FSC certification was suspended.

In some countries Ireland, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand - the FSC appears to have actually undermined efforts at a local and national level to reform either specific companies or the overall legal framework for the forestry sector says Simon Counsell, the Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation.

The MSC too is under scrutiny. In a global test case Barry Weeber, senior policy officer with Forest and Bird, appealed against accrediting the hoki fishery, which he describes as one of the most destructive in Aotearoa/New Zealand. In December 2002 the MSC rejected the appeal but conceded the certification body had not fully implemented a precautionary principle.

Increasingly, community groups are wondering whether certification schemes are more of a hindrance than a help in achieving higher social and environmental standards in the resource sector.

In the pilot project to certify mines, a WWF briefing note reveals the 14-person project group included corporate sponsors BHP/Billiton, WMC Resources, Newmont and Placer Dome as well as two WWF representatives. Other members include the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) and accountancy company PriceWaterhouseCoopers which is also a MCA member. The only indigenous representation is an advisor to the Australian Government.

Referring to the briefing note, WWF Programme Leader on Resource Conservation, Michael Rae, explained: That s all we have to say on the project for the moment. WWF have previously confirmed that even uranium mines will not be excluded from consideration.

Placer Dome's vice president for Business Development, Arthur Hood, is upbeat about the project. We have got to put something in place outside the industry to give us credibility and help our PR image in the future he told a recent industry conference.

Other community groups are wary. The key to necessary raising of standards in mining is to listen to and respect the wishes of potential victims of mining says Geoff Nettleton of the London-based Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links. A national conference in the Philippines in May 2002 called for a moratorium on mining, a scrapping of the current laws and a new law to regulate more closely and limit mining. There was no call for certification of good mines, he said. The trust for this is just not there and without it this scheme will be suspect.

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