The role of the Copper Mark in responsible mining

Bnamericas Published: Friday, September 09, 2022
The role of the Copper Mark in responsible mining

The Copper Mark aims to promote the responsible production of copper through an independent third-party assessment to demonstrate the industry’s contribution to the United Nations sustainable development goals.

To date nine operations in Chile have the recognition, namely BHP’s Escondida and Spence mines; Anglo American’s Los Bronces and El Soldado mines and Chagres smelter; Freeport-McMoRan’s El Abra mine and Antofagasta’s Centinela, Antucoya and Zaldívar. 

And there are five more mines going through the process: Antofagasta’s Los Pelambres, Codelco’s El Teniente, Lundin Mining’s Candelaria, and Capstone Copper’s Mantos Blancos and Mantoverde.

The Copper Mark reported a key milestone this year, having awarded the accolade to 30 sites globally. These sites produce more than 20% of worldwide mined copper, reflecting the increasing commitment of red metal producers to adopting responsible practices. 

BNamericas spoke with Michèle Brülhart, executive director of the Copper Mark, to learn more about the standards and the commitments that miners must meet to obtain the distinction.

BNamericas: How does the Copper Mark evaluate mining companies to grant the accreditation?

Brülhart: We independently evaluate each site, according to the standards on responsible production practices. The process takes from 24 months to a maximum of three years from the time companies join our program. During that time they must address any remedying gaps to fully meet the standards. And once the site receives the Copper Mark, there is a full reassessment that takes places every three years. In that period, we revise our standards, making the expectations stricter. So, companies must continue to work to improve their practices over time.

We have independent assessors, so it’s not the Copper Mark ourselves who approve their competence skills. The assessors visit the operations and perform on-site checks to ensure companies have a sufficient level of performance to obtain the mark. 

BNamericas: What are the biggest challenges when it comes to ESG standards?

Brülhart: Most of the gaps point to diligence in mineral supply chains and in the commitments companies acquire with their business partners and suppliers. This ensures that responsible practices are also part of their businesses. With the responsible sourcing rule, which is maybe the newer topic for the industry, it takes a little bit of time for companies to align their systems to the expectations in the market.

Then there are the greenhouse gas emissions where we expect companies to have reduction targets, where we monitor progress. It’s in this area where we’ve seen a number of companies working. Last year we adopted the global industry standards for tailings management with significant changes of the specific requirements that sites must put in place. 

BNamericas: With respect to the criteria on business ethics, compliance and legality, how do you determine these aspects?

Brülhart: We must ensure that companies have the right policies, procedures and systems in place to manage the environmental and governance fronts. Concretely, they must have appropriate policies on business integrity and prohibit bribery practices, corruption, or anticompetitive behavior, including proper procedures and training for their staff to ensure those policies are followed.  

BNamericas: Regarding non-discrimination and gender equity, which are also part of the Copper Mark principles, how are these aspects measured?

Brülhart: Our criteria are to continuously monitor to ensure that gender equality policies are implemented. Now, this topic is relatively flexible and there are no specific targets in terms of timelines to increase the representation of women in the workforce. This is one of the areas where we’re going through a review process of our standards, to clarify the expectations. 

BNamericas: Is there any reason why a company could lose the certification? 

Brülhart: The certification is only awarded if the participant companies meet our standards within the timeline, from 24 months to three years, and are committed to meet them. If after those three years the sites do not fully meet our standards, the Copper Mark would be suspended or removed until they address any remaining gaps. 

If there’s any allegation through media reports or any public information of non-compliance, we would engage with participants to better understand the context. There would be discussion on the sites and potentially investigations or reassessment. But at the end of the day, it may lead to suspension or removal of the mark, if we see that the site no longer meets our standards. All the information of the participating sites is public on our website. You can see their identity, their commitments, when they start the process, when they receive the Copper Mark, the summary of their evaluations, including those areas where they need to address the gaps. 

BNamericas: The clean energy transition requires more copper production. How can this increased demand be balanced with today's high environmental standards?

Brülhart: The core of our vision is that this copper production doesn’t come at the expense of the planet and its people. We believe that systems like ours are playing an important role in setting standards for what responsible production should look like. I think the intent between increasing the amount of copper to support the transition and the impact on the environment and communities is something that will continue to be a challenge in the future. 

BNamericas: Almost all Chilean companies that have received the Copper Mark are large-scale operations. Can small and medium-sized companies also merit certification?

Brülhart: Absolutely. We are proud to say that Southern Peaks in Peru just received the Copper Mark as one of the first medium-size operations. We believe it will serve as a great example for others to follow. The Copper Mark is set up to allow small and medium-sized businesses to easily come on board. Management in large companies is more complex, so their systems must be proportional to the size and complexity of their operations. Their risks are also greater in terms of the impact on people and the environment. So, the smallest can participate. From our secretariat, an engagement system is provided that any participant can achieve. Participants are supported in the process, to really make sure they have what they need.

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