HREE months into the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, few can question its devastating health, social and economic effects on so many people in so many countries. The word “unprecedented” is being well aired, but rightly so.
There are no rules for how to respond to such a threat — whether you are a government, a multilateral organisation or a company — and we must draw on our innate sense of humanity for doing the right thing. It is too easy to throw stones, and so we must focus our energy and resources on the role we can play as individuals, and in my case, as the leader in Anglo American and as a mining industry leader.
An effective response to Covid-19 must consider people’s lives in the first instance, and livelihoods, which is about protecting lives in the medium to longer term. From South America to Southern Africa, we know our mines and our host communities are deeply connected, that they operate together as an ecosystem, and that both must be healthy to prosper.
The choices we make during this crisis will shape the future of mining in South Africa, and the future of our social compact; that is, to be partners in the future. In so many, often rural, communities, mining provides many essential services — water, health facilities, education, power, infrastructure and accommodation — and drives entire micro-economies and employment up and down the value and supply chains.
It is our duty to sustain that critical contribution and to act responsibly towards the many who depend on us more than ever in these difficult times. As we work to respond to the most immediate needs, we must also recognise that the effectiveness of our response now will also shape the all-important economic recovery phase.
The more effective our response to the pandemic, the more rapid the recovery. In mining’s case, the more we manage to protect and support our employees and communities, the healthier and more prosperous they will be, and the greater mining’s ability will be to drive sustained economic recovery in our countries of operation.
The choices we make during this crisis will shape the future of mining in South Africa, and the future of our social compact
To that end, at Anglo American we have built our response to our employees and the communities around our operations. Our WeCare programme is designed to support the four pillars of physical health, mental health, living with dignity and a holistic socio-economic community package.
The programme builds on the many services we normally provide and covers health education and behavioural change initiatives, community support to combat gender-based violence, health screening and testing, support for small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurs, and the provision of food parcels to those in most desperate need.
Now more than ever mining companies must extend themselves beyond the mine gate. We must be cognisant of how decisions affect local businesses. Keeping community businesses that offer goods and services operating safely and effectively is key to ensuring the long-term sustainability of those communities. We are part of the fabric of our local communities, and they will remember us for what we did when it was needed, and when it mattered most.
Our communities understand that many services depend upon their neighbouring mine, and in turn they understand that mine activities depend upon their community. Our communities must feel that we are partners with them through this crisis. Our ability to support the community fits with our ability to continue running our business. We cannot have one without the other.
GROUNDWORK FOR RECOVERY
By the same token, we cannot take risks with people’s lives. Measured lockdowns, the identification and tracking of infection sources and effective isolation measures are the real tools of our ability to run our mines and support functioning communities. However, consistent with that view, we will take the hard decisions to temporarily shut operations if we feel we cannot keep our colleagues safe and healthy. Our response is underpinned by the objective of not doing anything that will hinder our ability to recover.
We will take the hard decisions to temporarily shut operations if we feel we cannot keep our colleagues safe and healthy
Our response as a company has not only been guided by our purpose, but the challenges we all face have affirmed the relevance of our purpose as a company — to “reimagine mining to improve people’s lives”. From how we change the future of mining — using technology to use less energy, water and create less waste to extract the precious metals and minerals we all need for modern life — to building on the many ways our business and products improve lives for billions of people, locally and globally, mining is evolving. We should all embrace that change for the better: a safer future, a carbon-neutral future, a prosperous future. A future in which we are working with partners across the government, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to create self-sustaining, thriving communities built on diverse economic activity.
Our FutureSmart Mining™ programme, and within it our Sustainable Mining Plan, already has us on a clear pathway to this future.
The opportunity I can see in this current crisis is that together we can accelerate, and thereby establish a far more resilient mining industry and a stronger, mutually reinforcing partnership between the mine and the community. The responsibility to achieve that goal sits on the shoulders of companies across the entire value and supply chain, so that our ecosystem is better able to withstand future shocks and prosper through thick and thin.
Having spent my entire working life in this incredible industry of mining, and as a mining engineer of course, I am passionate about what we do. And maybe I am also a little biased. But what I have learnt is the value of what our industry can bring to society if we pull together with others and act as an all-important catalyst for positive change. This is an opportunity to stand up and show how we are making a real and lasting positive difference.
Mark Cutifani is CEO of Anglo American.