Manufacturers, particularly in the technology and automotive sectors, are under increasing pressure from customers to demonstrate that products are made with responsibly-sourced materials. Transparent supply chains that trace where the materials come from and what practices were used to produce them are expected by shareholders and the public. But unlike similar programs gaining momentum in other sectors, such as the 'farm-to-table' social movement in the food and beverage sector, tracing the hundreds of metals and minerals needed to make a cars and smartphones is far more complex than tracking a steak from cow to plate.
A home-grown initiative is emerging as a solution to this global challenge. Manufacturing companies, such as Apple Inc., have recently spied a Canadian-born program that may provide the assurance they are looking for. The Mining Association of Canada's (MAC) Toward Sustainable Mining (TSM) initiative is an externally-certified accountability program that has been tracking the social and environmental performance of Canadian mining operations for almost 15 years.
MAC's current President and CEO, Pierre Gratton, was tasked with creating and implementing TSM in the late 1990's when he joined MAC as Vice President of Public Affairs. Fast-forward to March 2018 and TSM has not only been adopted across Canada by member companies of MAC and the Quebec Mining Association, but also by five other chambers of mines around the world.
"Finland was the first," said Gratton, "Their government led a process involving the mining sector and stakeholders that lasted a few years. They went through a similar exercise as we did in the early 2000s and started looking for a sustainability initiative or approach for their country. They spent time with MAC and, in the end, they decided TSM was the one that made the most sense. So, they asked if they could take our program and apply it there."
Finland adopted TSM in 2016. The following year, Argentina, Botswana, and the Philippines signed on, and in March 2018 MAC signed a TSM agreement with Spain. After signing an agreement, each country has five years to make the prescribed changes necessary to use the TSM label.
"We're also in discussions with Ecuador, Mongolia, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil and Madagascar. There's quite a bit of interest out there," said Gratton, "I don't know what will happen in each of these cases, but we're certainly fielding a lot of calls. It reflects well on the Canadian industry and all of Canada that we're seen as the developer of something that is leading-edge."
TSM is a performance system that focuses on six operational areas: Aboriginal and Community Outreach, Crisis Management Planning, Safety and Health, Biodiversity Conservation Management, Tailings Management and Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Management. Participating mine sites and facilities are assessed against performance indicators within these categories and awarded a Level C to Level AAA grade.
"We don't make it easy," says Gratton, "We reported a lot of Cs and Bs in the early days and admitted to the public that our sites were actually not operating at what we, ourselves, would consider good practice and I think that immediately earned us some credibility. This was not greenwashing."
TSM is still growing strong in Canada. MAC have found that their membership has increased in recent years as a result of making participation in TSM mandatory for all members. But, with the international adoption of the program, MAC has started to look at language, operational areas, and performance indicators that might resonate more at a global level.
"In June 2017, we added Preventing Child and Forced Labour," said Gratton, "in response to pressure from the manufacturing and automotive sectors, to be able to demonstrate clearly that TSM does respond to those issues, which are a concern for them," said Gratton. MAC is also developing Water Stewardship indicators for implementation by the end of 2018.
"If Apple is going to insist that they are only going to buy from responsibly-sourced mines, Canada is probably one of the best places they should go to get their copper, nickel and gold," said Gratton, "All the different elements that go into their iPhone and iPads you can get from Canada and feel pretty good about how they were mined."
Canada, however, still has work to do. MAC is concerned that Canada is losing ground as a global mining leader. In recent years, Canada has been overtaken by Australia as the top jurisdiction in the world for mineral exploration investment, said Gratton, and has fallen to third behind Australia and the United States in the number of mining supply companies in the country.
"We're worried by these trends," said Gratton, "There has been a decline in new investments in Canada and this needs to be turned around. Whether it's the regulatory system that's incredibly complex and time consuming, or the infrastructure gaps in the north where there's still so much potential, or the cost of energy or transportation, there's several things compromising Canada's competitiveness, and I think we need to wrap our heads around those."
"With our regulatory system and TSM, there is no better place in the world to do mining," said Gratton, "We've got to make sure it continues to be done here because you can't do it more responsibly anywhere else in the world."
Although Gratton and MAC have a more direct line to government, all Canadians are invited to share their thoughts on Canada's mining sector through the Canadian Mining and Metals Plan, launched at the Energy and Mines Ministers' Conference in August of last year. Visit https://www.minescanada.ca/en to have your say.