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ICMM develops global industry standard on tailings management

26 april 2021

The publication of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM)'s 2019 annual report last came shortly after the catastrophic collapse of a tailings dam at Vale's Córrego do Feijão mine in Brumadinho, Brazil.

More than 250 people lost their lives as a result of the collapse.

It was the deadliest catastrophe the industry had seen in more than 30 years, since a tailings-related incident in Stava, Northern Italy, claimed a similar number of lives.

The Córrego do Feijão mine disaster happened not long after catastrophic failures at tailings storage facilities at Samarco, also in Brazil in November 2015, which devastated the downstream villages of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu de Baixo, killing 19 people.

The scale of the Brumadinho collapse gravely undermined public trust in the sector's ability to safely manage tailings storage facilities, the council said.

"In response to [the Córrego do Feijão mine] tragedy, ICMM, together with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), has taken decisive steps to establish a robust, fit-for-purpose international standard for the safer management of tailings storage facilities," then ICMM chief executive Tom Buttler said.

"We have co-convened a Global Tailings Review, led by an independent chair, Dr Bruno Oberle, to develop the standard, which will [apply] to the management of existing and future tailings storage facilities, wherever they are."

ICMM recently released its 2020 annual report in which it said that the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management was published last August with an ambition of zero harm to people and the environment.

The Standard sets a global benchmark for achieving strong social, environmental and technical outcomes.

It elevates accountability to the highest organisational levels and adds new requirements for independent oversight.

The Standard also establishes clear expectations around transparency and public disclosure, helping to improve understanding by interested stakeholders.

It covers six key topics: Affected communities; Integrated knowledge base; Design, construction, operation and monitoring of tailings facilities; Management and governance; Emergency response and long-term recovery; and, Public disclosure and access to information.

The Standard will be integrated into ICMM's existing member commitments, which include third party assurance and validation.

Members have committed that all facilities with 'Extreme' or 'Very high' potential consequences will be in conformance within three years of the launch of the Standard in August 2020, and all other facilities within five years.

ICMM is also in the process of developing Conformance Protocols to support the integration of the Standard into ICMM's existing assurance processes.

"This document will enable member companies to assess progress with implementing the Standard," it said.

The Conformance Protocols will be published next month.

The council noted that it will in the near term, focus on a few technology themes, namely continuous sorting, batch sensing, and continuous mining machines to accelerate the development and adoption of these technology themes.

"In 2021, ICMM will continue to work with suppliers and research/innovation organisations to co-create an industry level roadmap [to promote] future collaborative initiatives," it said.

Responsible sourcing, production

ICMM said understanding whether or not products are responsibly produced, from manufacture right back to the source of its component materials is of increasing importance to society.

The council said it worked closely in 2019 with value chain stakeholders to advance understanding of responsible mining good practice and to explore tools to improve transparency in mineral value chains.

It said in its 2020 report that no matter how essential metals and minerals may be, customers and other stakeholders are justifiably demanding that they be produced responsibly.

"The industry has responded by developing a range of initiatives that establish performance requirements for the responsible production of metals and minerals, supported by a mix of self-assessment and independent third party reviews of implementation progress," said ICMM.

"While some of these initiatives aim to improve practices across the supply chain where mined materials are an important part of the production process, and others offer a 'seal of approval' in the form of certification, most involve mining companies making a commercial decision on whether to join industry ESG initiatives."

The number of mines covered by the ESG initiatives is relatively small, but ICMM's Mining Principles, launched in February 2020, will help to fill this gap while remaining aligned to other responsible supply initiatives.

Covering 38 areas, including biodiversity, gender, human rights due diligence, labour rights, local content, mine closure, pollution, resettlement and waste they apply to more than 650 ICMM members' assets in over 50 countries.

Their implementation by member companies will therefore drive performance improvements at scale.

Mathew Nyaungwa, Editor in Chief of the African Bureau, Rough&Polished