The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative

In January 2019, the catastrophic tailings dam failure at the Córrego do Feijão mining facility in Brumadinho, Brazil, led to 270 deaths.

The Investor Mining and Tailings Initiative (IMTSI) was founded in 2019 after the disaster at Brumadinho, Brazil, where a tailings storage facility failed, killing 270 people, and causing environmental damage.  The initiative is led by the Church of England Pensions Board and the Swedish Council on Ethics. It is a coalition of over than 100 investors with more than $20 trillion AUM.

It has developed though three phases:

Phase 1 involved a call to industry and data gathering (roundtables, disclosure request)

Phase 2 included the development of the Global Tailings Portal for disclosures, and the first Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management together with UNEP and industry,

Phase 3 is ongoing, and covers the development of the Global Tailings Management Institute, and enhanced investor stewardship (disclosure request, proxy voting etc)

The Initiative has been influential in driving safety in the mining sector. It was awarded “2020 Stewardship Project of the Year” by the independent judging panel of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment,  and we continue to work to ensure that lessons are leaned from the Brumadinho disaster across the mining industry.

 

PHASE 1 - Call to industry and data gathering

Shortly after the disaster in Brumadinho, a call to industry was issued, supported by investors with 1 trillion AUM. This call outlined the need for an industry-wide response to the problem of tailings storage facilities, and called attention to ESG risks. A series of multistakeholder roundtables were convened by investors seeking to understand the various technical, governance and community impacts of tailings. We heard from the mining industry, engineers, regulators, academics, community representatives from Brumadinho and Mariana (the site of a previous fatal tailings disaster), and ESG/investor data providers. These roundtables identified five issues:

  1. There was a trend of increasing catastrophic dam failures combined with a failure to implement past recommendations. 
  2. There was a lack of a global industry standard on tailings management. 
  3. There was an unknown number of tailings dams in the world and no global record of where they were. 
  4. No Disclosure standard existed for company reporting on tailings dams. 
  5. Fundamentally, waste has been treated as an externality with the cheapest storage options in many instances. 

In order to address the lack of disclosure, the Initiative issued a request to the mining industry to disclose each and every tailings facility, along with answers to 20 basic engineering and governance questions. This request generated novel detailed disclosure from 65% of the mining industry by market capitalisation.

PHASE 2 Developing a Global Portal and Global Industry Standard

With a strong response from the mining sector, we sought to make the new data accessible and standardised. The CEPB and Swedish COE partnered with GRID Arendal, an NGO with strong links to the UN, to develop the Global Tailings Portal, which was launched in January 2020. It is a free, searchable database with detailed informaiton on more than 1,800 mine tailings dams around the world. The Portal is available here: tailing.grida.no 

While better and more accessible data is important as it can enable both company and external scrutiny (“sunlight is the best disinfectant”), the Initiative continued to advocate for an appropriate global industry response, such as a standard of good practice.

In 2020 Adam Matthews (Church of England Pensions Board) and John Howchin (Council on Ethics for the Swedish Public Pension Funds) entered discussions with the mining industry (represented by ICMM), and the UN Environment Programme, with a view to co-convening a process to develop such a standard.

Representing the UN backed Principles for Responsible Investment as co-convenors of a “Global Tailings Review” Matthews and Howchin agreed terms of reference, oversaw the appointment an independent chair (Prof Bruno Oberle), expert panel, and the open, consultative process. It took just over a year and a half for this standard to be developed, consulted on, agreed, and published by the co-convenors.

PHASE 3 – Driving application. Investor stewardship and Global Tailings Management Institute.

In 2022 the Initiative has convened three working groups, the first group has been developing a plan for a Global Tailings Management Institute, which will develop audit and assurance facilities and further drive the adoption of the Standard.  The Church of England Pensions Board has partnered with UNEP to recruit a senior consultant to lead the process, and the steering group (see the announcement here) has met a number of times to date.

The second group has been developing a revised disclosure request aligned to the GISTM, and in support of the development of the Global Tailings Portal. The group is consulting on the first draft in early 2022. This technical group is co-chaired by Professor Elaine Baker and Dr Stephen Barrie, further details, including the consultation documents are available here.

The third group has been reviewing tailings monitoring systems and the feasibility of a global monitoring system, along the lines of those that are in place for other industries (e.g. aviation, nuclear power).

Investors continue to develop stewardship and information systems to support the adoption of safer tailings practices. In December 2020, the initiative contacted over 300 mining companies requesting that they support and confirm their timeline of adoption of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. For a full list of company responses to this request, please click here. Some initiative members are using this list to guide proxy voting decisions in 2022.

Investors have also begun work on “Agenda 2030” for the mining industry, using the multistakeholder roundtable model that inspired the tailings initiative.  Agenda 2030 will include a range of mining related topics, including deep sea mining, indigenous rights, automation, impact on land, climate change, critical minerals and child labour. For more information please contact the Pensions Board stewardship team: [email protected]