Copper Mark: the stamp of sustainability
18th November 2021
Centinela and Zaldívar have obtained the seal; Los Pelambres and Antucoya to follow
In recent years, there have been growing demands for information from investors, banks, customers, NGOs and communities on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of mining operations.
Responding to these requests is onerous and, despite best efforts at transparency, can lack credibility due to the absence of an external, independent audit process to verify declarations of sustainable mining practices.
The Copper Mark assurance process, launched in March 2020, addressed this.
Inspired by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Copper Mark involves the independent verification of activities at copper-producing sites based on 32 criteria in five categories: governance, labour rights, environment, community and human rights. It provides a simple and credible five-step assurance process of sites’ responsible mining practices.
“We are proud that of our four operations two are now among the 13 mines worldwide that hold this distinguished recognition,” Antofagasta’s CEO, Ivan Arriagada, said after the mining group’s Centinela and Zaldívar mines were awarded the Copper Mark seal earlier this year. “It is a clear demonstration of our conviction that mining for a better future is possible.”
Importantly, the Copper Mark is also expected to enable companies to comply with the London Metal Exchange’s (LME) Responsible Sourcing requirements that come into force at the end of 2023. It is currently going through an OECD Alignment Assessment and, once completed, will apply to the LME for formal approval.
“The Copper Mark focus on ESG criteria gives us a competitive advantage,” says Benjamin Mira, from Zaldívar’s Finance Department, who coordinated that site’s process. “It is part of building the copper brand of the future.”
Building on the success of Centinela and Zaldívar, the Los Pelambres and Antucoya mines started the Copper Mark assurance process by signing their Letters of Commitment in November 2021.
The Centinela and Zaldívar mines both signed Letters of Commitment to the Copper Mark process in November 2020, kicking-off a maximum period of 12 months to complete the initial assurance process.
“It was a brand-new process and one of the main challenges was to fill the gaps in terms of knowing exactly what standard was expected,” says Alejandra Vial, Antofagasta Minerals’ Environment Manager.
The two sites set up dedicated teams for each of the five category areas and began to gather the evidence to show compliance with the 32 criteria. During this six-month self-assessment period, the sites worked closely with ESG counterparts in Antofagasta’s corporate offices, who double-checked the relevance of submitted documents such as policies, standards and procedures as well as existing certifications of good practice, such as ISO standards.
“The process worked as an incentive to start closing any identified gaps straightaway through the development of action plans,” says Macarena Ramírez, from Centinela’s Environmental Department, who coordinated the site’s overall process.
Once the self-assessment was completed, the Copper Mark organised an independent assurance process consisting first of a desktop review to check the completeness of the documents submitted, followed by on-site assessments to confirm findings. The latter involved tours of the mine sites, tailings management and communities as well as numerous interviews with representatives of management, employees, contractors, unions and local communities.
“There was intense scrutiny and reviewers went straight to the heart of the problem,” recalls Vial.
Based on these assessments, Copper Mark found that two of the criteria (Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, and Land Acquisition and Resettlement) were not applicable to either Centinela or Zaldívar. Of the remaining 30 criteria, both sites comply fully with 26 criteria and partially with four.
“The results were very satisfactory in both cases,” says Vial. “Copper Mark validated that our management systems for these areas meet international standards, which is a significant achievement.”
As part of step four of the Copper Mark process, Improvement Plans have been agreed to reach full compliance on all criteria within a year. Implementation is being closely monitored internally as well as by Copper Mark and will be independently verified. A full reassessment must be conducted after three years to maintain the Copper Mark stamp of approval.
“We are proud of the result at Centinela,” says Ramirez. “We don’t have to develop new operational models or create work teams or procedures. The result reflects a routine way of working that was already present at the operation.”