“Mining is critical for everyone on the planet” said Mark Cutifani at an ICMM reception yesterday evening in London, as he set out his stall on what he thinks the International Council on Mining and Metals should be focussing on as his term begins as the august organisation’s chairman. 

According to its website, the ICMM’s basic brief is as follows: to improve sustainable development performance in the mining and metals industry. Its core membership comprises 21 mining and metals companies (the world’s largest miners) as well as 35 national and regional mining associations and global commodity associations working, in combination,  to address core sustainable development challenges.

The ICMM now serves as an agent for change and continual improvement on issues relating to mining and sustainable development. It requires member companies to make a public commitment to improve their sustainability performance and report against their progress on an annual basis. In addition, to augment these efforts, it engages with a broad range of stakeholders (governments, international organizations, communities and indigenous peoples, civil society and academia) to build strategic partnerships.

To an extent though the ICMM is largely working with the already converted, and Cutifani, the new CEO of Anglo American Corporation who has become ICMM chairman almost by default as some other possible top mining company CEO contenders have fallen by the wayside in the past few months of bloodletting in the industry, obviously feels the organisation should go further in getting ‘the mining is critical’ message across to the general public rather than just raise standards in the industry itself, at which it has proven to be an excellent guide.

Talking to Mineweb at the reception, Cutifani comes across as a grass roots miner who has an inherent understanding of the industry, and its flaws, which he brings into his management style.  He strongly believes that mining is indeed critical to the welfare and standard of living of everybody on the planet and insists that his troops, i.e. his employees down the line, should also be proactive at getting their message across to the community at large.  They should be proud of their industry, which perhaps contributes to about 45% of the global economy, yet only takes up a minute portion of the planet’s land surface.

Mineral extraction is one of the world’s two basic industries – the other being agriculture – and even agriculture would not be able to supply the globe’s needs without mining of the key fertiliser minerals, potash and phosphates to boost production sufficiently to provide for us all.  And as for everything else that contributes to our way of life, ‘mining’ in its broadest sense supplies it.  Without mining and metallurgy, we’d be living in mud huts, working with primitive stone tools – indeed we’d be back in the stone age.  But how do you get this across to the people who nowadays just take mining products for granted, yet are happy to support supposed environmental activists who seem to oppose mining at every level and are more than happy to promote scare stories, and often use outright lies or certainly economies with the truth, to try and get their frequently misleading and self-serving agendas across?

If Mark Cutifani can somehow enable the industry, via the ICMM, to get its own case across and get people in general to understand that we just can’t survive in the manner to which we have become accustomed without mining, then he will be doing the industry, and the world, an enormous service.  In the ICMM there is an organisation which certainly has the intellectual capability of doing this, but perhaps not the financial resources.  It has been hugely successful in raising standards within the industry itself, a very limited universe, but can it bring this success to the broader audience necessary for sustained change?

As implied above, Cutifani is not out of the self-important mould that has been the pattern with so many mining, and other company, CEOs of the past.  When he took over as CEO of Anglo American he took his time to get round to all his head office staff and talk to them about their own aspirations and outlook on life – not a cursory handshake and brief introduction which some former CEOs may have undertaken – if that.  He also understands that if the grass roots of the industry can be mobilised to promote understanding of it among friends, family and the general public, that can be a huge part of the battle, and the ICMM can certainly provide good ammunition for doing this.

At the reception he recounted a story of receiving a letter from a widow congratulating him on pulling out of an unnamed North American project  which she seemed to feel would be a disaster and the ultimate environmental nightmare which would rebound on her children and grandchildren.  Instead of just ignoring it he penned a 2-page letter in reply pointing out the importance of massive projects of this type in maintaining life on this planet as we know it and how important they are for the future of his own children and grandchildren! 

If all mining stakeholders were prepared to make this kind of effort in supporting their industry then maybe it would not find itself under so much pressure in so many countries, many of whose wealth was literally built on the back of mining development. Familiarity breeds contempt, and perhaps nowhere is this more valid than in the perception of global mining.  If Mark Cutifani can use his time as chairman of the ICMM Council in getting mining’s message across to the world at large, he will be doing everyone an immense service.

iPad Version: Picture – Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani: Desiree Swart/Moneyweb