In your leader, ‘Lest we Forget’, January 20, 2012, you commemorate the deaths of 204 miners who died at the Hester iron-ore mine, New Hartley, northeast UK, 150 years ago, linking the events of 1862 to practice today.
Then, as now, the incentive provided by surges of price (gold in the past few years, which allowed the re-opening of the San José mine in haste) can tempt short cuts by mine owners sitting far away in wood-panelled board rooms.
To link the accident in Victorian England to today is salutary. It was noticeable to me that during the many hours of coverage of the Chilean miners’ rescue, little focus was spent on the wider issue of conditions for miners worldwide. The thousands of deaths each year in China, for example, which go largely unreported by the BBC or other media organizations.
By highlighting the wider responsibilities of auditors beyond figures, to auditing wider corporate practice, you raise an important issue that all of us in the trade (at whatever part of the chain) need to encourage.
Here at the MMTA (Minor Metals Trade Association) we established in 2008 an industry link between our association and a single mining town, in order to educate and heighten the awareness of our members to conditions at the other end of our industry. When we did this we chose the town of Mufulira in Zambia – the place that has a special historical significance in the UK for the discovery of copper in the copperbelt during the 1920s, later one of the main sources of copper to the British Empire and also one of the most renowned brands on the London Metal Exchange.
Upon visiting the town, I was able to see at first hand that the mining and smelting complex, however successful to its shareholders, was spewing sulphur from its three converters direct to atmosphere. Receiving evidence of this from the AH Knight stack reports handed to me by The Environmental Council of Zambia (ECZ), I was able to write to the mine owners to bring this to their attention. Through our linking we were able to show our members that in this town sulphur pollution was the single most deleterious element in the lives of the 300,000 people. Living in this town, without fresh air, was causing the bleaching of the land, a prevalence of bronchitis and exacerbating the effects of TB on victims suffering from Aids.
On November 21, the mine owners, Glencore International plc confirmed that all sulphur would be captured by end 2013 and we understand that one of the three converters is almost ready for installation.
I would encourage any members of our trade to bring poor practice to the attention of the companies responsible as it is we who have more power to shine a light on these matters than the sometimes voiceless communities who suffer the negative side-effects that mining can bring.
Chairman MMTA 2003-2006
Mining Journal, February 3rd 2012