On 5 April 2019, a group of 96 investors, represented by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council on Ethics and backed by the United Nations supported Principles for Responsible Investment, wrote to a large number of publicly-traded mining companies requesting disclosure on the management of their tailings storage facilities (TSFs).
683 listed extractives companies received this letter with a request that they publish the disclosure on their websites within 45 days and ensure that the disclosure is signed by the company’s chief executive or board chair.
This request followed a call by institutional investors for an independent tailings classification and monitoring system, made at an investor roundtable on mining and tailings safety held in London on 4th March 2019. These engagements were prompted by the tragic collapse of the TSF in Brazil, in January 2019, and the failure of the Samarco TSF, also in Brazil, in November 2015.
AngloGold Ashanti Limited, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, were among the scores of companies contacted in this regard. In response, they published the requested information on their respective website.
As at 7 June 2019, AngloGold Ashanti has 34 TSFs across its global portfolio, of which 60 per cent are active, 20 per cent are being remined and 20 per cent are inactive facilities.
“AngloGold Ashanti’s TSFs are designed and built to a rigorous set of standards and carefully managed and monitored through a four-layered assurance system by a team of internal specialists and independent external experts. Ensuring that these TSFs are responsibly maintained as crucial to maintaining our license to operate,” the company said in a statement.
Rio Tinto manages the operation of TSFs at 26 sites worldwide. The company also has a further five non-managed operational sites and 12 closed and legacy sites.
In 2015, Rio Tinto introduced a global standard for all tailings and water storage facilities to ensure all managed facilities around the world are operated in accordance with this one global standard. Rio Tinto published this standard on 20 February 2019, when the company also disclosed detailed information on each of the company’s global tailings facilities.
In June, Rio Tinto disclosed additional information in relation to its global tailings facilities.
BHP, on 7 June BHP hosted an investor briefing on the management of TSFs across the portfolio.
The purpose of the briefing was to provide an update on BHP’s approach to TSF management and to give further information on the number, design and classification of tailings facilities.
It is expected that each individual company disclosures will be scrutinised by investors as they develop an assessment framework to profile each business on their tailings management.
This is the second major intervention by international investors following the Brumadinho disaster. The first intervention made a public call to establish a new standard for tailings dams based upon the consequences of failure with independent and public audits.