Canada is home to more than half of the world’s publicly-traded mining companies, which have more than 8,000 mineral projects across six continents – from exploration through to construction and production to closure. Many of these projects are located in the world’s least developed countries, where children under the age of 18 make up nearly half of the local populations.
These vulnerable children can be disproportionately affected by the impact of mining operations. They are more likely to be involved in accidents with site vehicles, are at a greater risk of violence from construction sub-contractors or security forces, and have lower tolerance thresholds to extractive emissions, putting them in grave danger from health and development complications. They also risk not having a voice as they are often under-represented in stakeholder engagement and community relations. Children are more vulnerable and need particular consideration by companies.
A number of Canadian mining companies are supporting children and families through social investments in surrounding communities, but are also beginning to analyse how they can improve operational impact on the lives of children by changing company policies and practices. As early adopters of the Children’s Rights and Business Principles, they are pioneering replicable models that will serve to advance child wellbeing and enhance the impact of their commitments to communities.
Sherritt International operates a major nickel mine and processing plant in Madagascar, and, over the years, has helped support UNICEF education, health and child protection programmes in the country. As a result, 800 primary schoolchildren are benefiting from new facilities, 200 adolescents were trained to educate their peers on sexual health, and a child helpline has received more than 25,000 calls which resulted in 1,122 vulnerable children receiving child protection support.
Sherritt International has complemented these programmes by looking at its policies. It worked collaboratively with UNICEF to address children’s rights through a code of conduct, child rights training and contract clauses for staff, suppliers and contractors, and children’s considerations in security and human rights risk assessments.
Industry interest grows
Considering children during stakeholder engagement is of particular interest to several mining companies. During community consultations, children are often overlooked as a key stakeholder group. However, children can provide important insights on business impact that may not be captured through consultations with community leaders. The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and Canadian UNICEF Committee hosted a workshop for companies on engaging children and families at the site level. “Together, we recognised the need to build capacity at every level to identify and integrate children’s rights considerations into existing company approaches,” said Ben Chalmers, vice-president of sustainable development at MAC.
Pan American Silver, a Canadian mining company producing silver across South America, is taking this to heart. With input from the Canadian UNICEF Committee, it has already included questions about the wellbeing of children in its community consultations, and is in the process of evaluating the integration of children’s rights into its corporate responsibility policy and piloting an impact assessment for children in Peru with the aim of supporting children’s rights through its work in the community.
“We are working to support children’s rights through our work,” commented Monica Moretto, senior manager of corporate affairs and social Responsibility at Pan American Silver. “The issues identified by UNICEF were in the top 10 most material issues subsequently highlighted by our local stakeholders.”
Other companies are considering children as part of their due diligence processes. Barrick Gold, the largest gold producer in the world, recently participated in a UNICEF global pilot project and integrated children’s rights indicators into its human rights risk assessment tool. Following a successful site assessment in Peru, the expanded tool will now be applied to all of Barrick’s sites.
Jonathan Drimmer, vice-president at Barrick Gold, stated: “This process equipped us to better understand the potential risks and impacts our operations might have on children. It also better positioned us to enhance our data collection as well as identify the positive contributions we are already making to communities.”
The role of governments
As Canadian mining companies begin to pioneer children’s rights around the world, governments have a key role to play in facilitating wider adoption by the mining sector. Natural Resources Canada recently produced a ‘Corporate Social Responsibility Checklist for Canadian Mining Companies Working Abroad’, which devotes particular attention to the sector’s impact on vulnerable groups.
Dr Lise-Aurore Lapalme, senior policy adviser at natural Resources Canada, said: “Some companies are doing pioneering work to address concerns related to children’s rights. The input of UNICEF Canada was invaluable in highlighting these issues in our Checklist.”
As companies begin to comprehensively address children’s rights, challenges will be identified that will require new forms of collaboration between governments, business and civil society. Only when children’s considerations are fully integrated into the sector’s policies and practices will mining be truly sustainable for both businesses and communities.
Content on this page is paid for and provided by UNICEF, sponsor of the business and child rights hub.