Statement: Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management Falls Short

Background:
Today, the Global Tailings Review, a process co-convened by the International Council on Mining and Metals, the UN Environment Programme and Principles for Responsible Investment, released its Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management. Earthworks provided comments on earlier drafts of this Global Standard in our capacity as a member of the Advisory Group.

The Global Standard was triggered by the horrific tailings disaster in Brumadinho, Brazil, last year, which killed nearly 300 people. It arrives the day after the 6th anniversary of the Mount Polley tailings dam collapse in British Columbia, which spilled 24 million cubic meters of metals-laced water into the Hazeltine Creek and Quesnal Lake, but to date has resulted in no environmental charges for the damage caused.

In June, a group of over 150 scientists, community organizations and NGOs from 24 countries published “Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management,” a set of 16 guidelines for the safer storage of mine waste. These guidelines bridge many of the gaps left by the Global Standard. An early version of this document was submitted during the public comment period for the first draft of the Global Standard.

Below is a statement from Earthworks’ Mining Program Director Payal Sampat.

“We appreciated the opportunity to inform the Global Tailings Review in an advisory capacity. We recognize the Secretariat and the Expert Panel for their months of hard work in preparing the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management.

“The Global Standard doesn’t make the true “step changes” that are so urgently needed to prevent future disasters. The trend in increasingly severe and frequent tailings dam failures is the unfortunate result of allowing mining companies to sacrifice safety to cut costs, dodge upfront financial obligations, and pass the buck on accountability. The Global Standard does not adequately address these or other critically important issues.

“The ultimate goal of tailings management must be zero harm to people and the environment and zero tolerance for human fatalities. A meaningful standard for tailings dams must require financial assurance and insurance, and accountability at the highest level of corporate governance. Community consent must be required at all stages of a project, allowing for communities to establish “no-go zones” where tailings facilities must never be considered. Public participation in decisions and reliable grievance mechanisms are necessary to ensure that communities and workers can raise the alarm without consequences. We were looking to the Global Standard for these safeguards, but at present, it falls short of what is needed.

“We urge the co-conveners of the Global Tailings Review to incorporate these safeguards from “Safety First” in future revisions of the Global Standard–and to do so soon. Communities in the shadow of tailings dams cannot continue to live in fear of the next Brumadinho or Mount Polley disaster. In its current form, the new Global Standard does not provide the reassurance they so urgently need.”

For more information:
Global Standard Scorecard
Safety First: Guidelines for Responsible Mine Tailings Management
Global Tailings Review website