Council on Ethics Supports New Tailings Standard Institute

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Storebrand (NordSIP) – In January 2019, the failure of a tailings dam in one of Vale’s mines in Brumadinho, Brazil, led to a disaster that killed 270 people. In its aftermath, the continuous efforts by concerned investors and international organisations, led to the creation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management in August 2020 to establish requirements for the safer management of both existing and new tailings facilities globally.

Now, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), the Church of England Pensions Board, and the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds, have partnered to create an independent international institute to support the implementation of the Industry Standard.

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“As one of the two PRI Co-Convenors of the Global Tailings Review representing investors in the mining sector, we are determined that the Standard is widely adopted and drives a change in practice within mining,” says John Howchin, Secretary-General, Council on Ethics of the Swedish Public Pension Funds. “A key recommendation of the Independent Chair of the Review was for the creation of an independent international institute to govern the evolution of the Standard and to ensure its implementation. We believe this is an essential next step to addressing the legacy of the Brumadinho disaster and are delighted to be working in partnership with UNEP to establish the institute in the coming year.”

The institute is expected to be independent and self-sustaining, as recommended by Dr Bruno Oberle, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and former Independent Chair of the Global Tailings Review, in “Towards Zero Harm: A compendium of papers prepared for the Global Tailings Review”.

“As Chair of the Global Tailings Review process, my priority was to deliver a credible and trusted Standard,” Oberle explains. “I am very encouraged by the announcement that an independent institute will be created to oversee the implementation and ongoing development of the Standard. The Standard is the product of an extensive multi-stakeholder and independent process and it will be critical to retain this model to ensure safe management of tailings facilities globally. I am particularly pleased to see the continued momentum and attention on this important topic.”

As part of this process, the Church of England Pensions Board and the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds have written to over 350 mining companies on behalf of investors with US$21 trillion in assets under management (AUM), asking them to confirm on their company websites their support for the Standard and to set out a timeline for their intended compliance with it.

“Through this partnership we will create an independent international institute to drive best practice, share expertise and consolidate disclosure in support of the Standard,” Adam Matthews, Director of Ethics and Engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board adds. “The Institute will also have a key role in evolving the Standard over time and in ensuring the independent verification that the Standard is being applied as intended. We look forward to working in partnership with UNEP, industry and other key stakeholders to ensure this institute is established with rigor and purpose. To underpin the Standard we have also asked all companies with tailings facilities for their endorsement and to confirm their implementation timeline. This will be essential in retaining confidence of their investors.”

The UNEP has started the recruitment process for a senior consultant to lead the process of establishing the Institute.

“The launch of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management has been an important milestone towards UNEP’s ambition of zero harm to people and the environment from tailings facilities,” says Ligia Noronha, Director of the Economy Division at the UNEP. “We are now taking the next step and welcome our partnership with the Church of England Pensions Board and the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds to develop and establish the independent international institution that will oversee the global implementation of the Standard. We look forward to a broad implementation of the Standard, echoing the feedback we have heard from participants in the consultations on UNEA4/19 resolution on mineral resource governance.”

Image by gabriel uribe from Pixabay

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