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RIO - Rio Tinto News Story

6135p -169.0  -2.7%

Last Trade - 14/05/21

Sector
Basic Materials
Size
Large Cap
Market Cap £99.32bn
Enterprise Value £103.19bn
Revenue £31.65bn
Position in Universe 13th / 1826

Soaring prices spur miners' hunt for growth, fueling indigenous and investor ire

Wed 17th March, 2021 5:41pm
By Jeff Lewis and Melanie Burton
    TORONTO/MELBOURNE, March 17 (Reuters) - Miners from
Australia to Canada are expanding operations despite concerns
from indigenous groups about damage to wildlife, water supplies
and religious sites, rankling investors who are pressuring the
industry to improve its environmental, social and governance
(ESG) standards. 
    Prices for gold, copper and iron ore, which have recently
hit record or multi-year highs, have spurred a hunt for growth
that risks ignoring lessons the industry should have learned
after the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in Australia by
Rio Tinto last year, according to institutional investors. 
    This is the second wave of pressure that investors concerned
about ESG issues have laid on miners after successfully forcing
mine waste standards updates in 2020, after a 2019 tailings dam
collapse that killed 270 people in Brazil.
 urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL1N2E61ZZ urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL1N2BD0M3
    "I don't think there's an option of not changing behaviors,"
said Adam Matthews of the Church of England Pensions Board.
    Rio Tinto’s  RIO.AX  RIO.L  demolition of the Juukan sacred
caves, which had permit approval, caused an outcry. Five
executives linked to the incident have left or are planning to
leave, including the chief executive and chairman.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL3N2L04MW
    Given miners have the requisite regulatory permits when
undertaking projects that are later opposed by indigenous
communities, legal and regulatory reform is critical, investors
said. 
    "In our discussions with listed companies, it is clear that
practices are still widely varied and strongly influenced by
regulatory requirements," said Alison George of investment
advisor Regnan, owned by Pendal Group  PDL.AX , which manages
A$98.4 billion ($75.73 billion).
    The group sees "unfinished business in the area of law
reform and revision to influential standards," she said. 
    Canadian junior Baselode Energy Corp  FIND.V  last month
halted uranium exploration in the western province of
Saskatchewan after the Birch Narrows Dene Nation said it lacked
consent to conduct surveys on traditional lands.
    "The province can't be handing out these permits and running
roughshod over our territories," said Heather Bear, vice chief
of the regional Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. 
    CEO James Sykes said Baselode is in talks with communities
to restart work.     
    Miners say they are doing their best to meet regulatory
requirements and adjusting mine plans to meet the wishes of
local groups while working to tight timelines.
    "It hasn't been perfect but we have been able to consult a
lot of the community," said Martin Plante, vice-president of
Nunavut operations at Canadian gold miner Agnico Eagle  AEM.TO .
    Inuit in the Canadian Arctic territory said pandemic
lockdowns have hindered talks with Agnico over its plans to pipe
treated wastewater from its Meliadine mine into the Arctic Ocean
and increase contaminants it can legally dispose in a nearby
lake.
    Agnico said pollution would fall within regulated limits and
that it has tried to find ways to safely meet with Inuit during
the pandemic. 
   
    'PRESERVING WHAT WE HAVE LEFT'
    In South Australia, Argonaut Resources  ARE.AX  will begin a
major copper drilling campaign on Lake Torrens, a salt lake with
fragile freshwater aquifers that is considered sacred by
Aboriginal groups.  urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL1N2LA056
    "It's all about the benefits to the state of royalties, but
for us it's about preserving what we have left," said Jason
Bilney, chair of the Barngarla Aboriginal Corporation, who have
ancestral ties to the area. 
    The state's mines department last June awarded A$320,000
($246,272) to the miner to drill the shoreline. The government
said the drilling would not permanently harm the lake and that a
separate permit would be needed to mine. 
    In New South Wales state, China's Shenhua Watermark has
proceeded with plans to build a new coal mine against the wishes
of the local Gomeroi people, with the approval of the federal
government. 
    Shenhua said it had adhered to all rigorous planning and
environmental approval processes set out by state and federal
government. 
    Some indigenous groups have been successful in slowing mine
projects. 
    Native Americans opposed to Rio Tinto's Resolution copper
project in Arizona won a reprieve in March after the new Biden
administration blocked a land swap needed for the project.
 urn:newsml:reuters.com:*:nL2N2KZ2BR
    More investors have signed on to a November letter sent by
the Church of England and other investors to 78 miners seeking
information on their dealings with indigenous peoples and the
standards they employ. 
    "As with tailings, we feel that (Juukan) has revealed a
wider problem, and equally a need to question how the industry
has been dealing with it," CoE Pensions Board's Matthews said.
($1 = 1.2994 Australian dollars)

 (Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto, Melanie Burton in
Melbourne and Ernest Scheyder in Houston
Editing by Marguerita Choy)
 ((Jeff.Lewis@thomsonreuters.com;+1-647-200-7236))
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