Walking the Walk: ESG practices should be the core of African Mining

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Opinion-Editorial by Souleymane Traoré, Chief Executive Officer, Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG), Conakry, Guinea

The mining sector has a responsibility to develop new, sustainable practices to minimize and mitigate its impact on the environment, transform the lives of the people in the areas surrounding operations and respect fundamental human rights. It’s why, much like many other industries, there needs to be a rapid shift towards Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) business strategies. Because rhetoric is no longer enough, especially in the developing world.

The difference between ESG and typical corporate social investment work is that ESG requires transparent plans of action and concrete numbers that can be seen by investors and the public alike. These quantifiable indicators must be evidence of the work done to change lives, meaning an organisation cannot hide behind empty promises.

At CBG, we are using ESG as our core development strategy, because we want to ensure that we leave behind a better world – balancing the need to create economic opportunities, but also ensuring we avoid environmentally exploitative practices.

Across Africa, mining and related infrastructure is a major contributor to the continent’s economic earning potential. It has been estimated that the value of related projects in Africa will amount to at least $USD 50.87 billion by 2030, but what will be key to sustaining such an empire will be environmental protection, sustainable business practices, community development and protective policy frameworks.

Guinea has the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, but the economic potential is still untapped and may change the lives of the + 12 million Guineans.

Since opening almost 50 years ago, CBG’s operations have produced 500 Metric tonnes of bauxite in a responsible and safe manner for export – supporting one of the country’s most important mineral industries and ultimately doing our best to help transform Guinea’s resource-based economy – all with a focus on the development of people.

We have seen first-hand the importance of the private sector in not just growing the economy, but aiming for true sustainability through infrastructure development, community upliftment, skills transfer, job creation and environmental protection initiatives. While CBG recognises the inherent value of African mineral value chains, they can only be sustainably developed – and profitable in the long-term – through the principles espoused in ESG strategies.

Throughout its tenure in Guinea, CBG’s business has always viewed its communities as a primary stakeholder in the business, with a desire to create jobs and upskill local Guineans to avoid a reliance on international labour. Currently, CBG directly employs over 2200 people, 90% of whom are of Guinean descent. However, it is the indirect job creation that forms the centre of the company’s community development strategy.

Recent data from Guinea’s Private Investment Agency (APIP) suggests that over 90% of the country’s economic enterprises are in the informal sector, and this trend must be reversed. Through a program that enables and supports the development of small businesses, CBG has offered interest-free loans and training programmes that have created some 3000 direct jobs in the Boké region – some of whom have been contracted to assist in CBG operations.

While most Corporate Social Investment (CSI) work tends to focus on economic development, in the developing world, it is sometimes forgotten that improved, globally competitive infrastructure is sorely needed. CBG has invested over $60 million in the last decades in varied infrastructure and basic social services, including a focus on educational and medical development. These have included schools, clinics, and improved water services.

More recently, we have implemented a more comprehensive CSI program that allows for the annual investment of $2.5 million, with special attention on creating income generating activities for our communities.

Beyond the human elements of a sustainable business, one cannot ignore the environmental impact of the mining industry, especially in Africa, where protective legislations are underdeveloped or difficult to enforce. Guinea’s mining legislation has been transformed in the last 15 years, the most significant of which is the National Action Plan for the Environment and a revised mining code. The code demands full compliance in protecting the environment, and all mining operators requesting exploitation permits must include environmental and social impact assessments to ensure minimal environmental damage.

CBG’s own commitment has been to rehabilitate the areas in which it mines and has already managed to restore an area of 2000 hectares and will continue rehabilitation throughout its existence in Guinea. The company has also committed to driving responsible environmental stewardship through the preservation of local resources and biodiversity, also addressing any historical impacts on water resources or air quality through thorough monitoring.

The governance aspect of ESG also means that industry players need to re-evaluate their own policies in light of government legislation and hold themselves accountable to ensure that environmental stewardship and community development remain at the forefront of their businesses. Becoming a signatory to the International Finance Corporation’s environmental and social standards, the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (whose certification is underway), the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), CBG believes it is vital that a global standard is set for a responsible, sustainable mining sector.

Protecting lives and livelihoods is a multi-faceted consideration for the mining industry, but CBG has always had a core focus on innovation, preservation, and a central belief that while mineral resources are finite, communities and their surrounding environments should prosper forever.

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