Michele Brülhart, executive director of The Copper Mark: “We hope that in 3 to 5 years a significant part of the copper producers will participate in this initiative”

The Copper Mark was born as a solution for producers, buyers and investors to have a reliable system to demonstrate responsible copper production, and this August 25 they participated in a seminar organized in conjunction with Cesco and Alta Ley, to add new medium-sized companies and small mining from Chile and Peru to this process.

The need of the market to have a complete and reliable system to demonstrate the responsible production of copper of the different sites, was what motivated the International Copper Association (ICA) in 2017 to develop a mechanism with the necessary criteria to meet this goal.

This is how The Copper Mark was born, an entity that is now independent of the ICA (since December 2019), as a way to contribute to sustainable development over time through a regular evaluation of the performance of copper mines. Based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, this trustworthy verification seal of responsible production of copper is based on information at the site level, in addition to risk management practices and public reports. Performance is regularly verified by independent third parties, using the Copper Mark’s Assurance Process.

“There are many companies that implement management systems for responsible production, but there has not been one that is commonly recognized and accepted by all”, explains Michele Brulhart, executive director of The Copper Mark. “One of the benefits we provide is the possibility of communicating your good practices as a company to all stakeholders who require this information, in a way that is independently validated and has credibility”.

The executive explains that it is a voluntary program open to all members of the copper industry, that is supported by the London Metal Exchange, and that it will be presented on August 25 to medium and small producers in Peru and Chile. “Since the beginning of the process in April of this year, five companies have expressed their willingness to take this step, through a letter of commitment, and are being assessed by the Copper Mark. We hope that more companies want to join”, says Brulhart.

The steps to achieve responsible production

The Copper Mark is designed as a continuous improvement process, where companies sign a letter of commitment stating their intention to be evaluated and to review compliance with the criteria over time. Applicants must send the documentation of the processes in which they have already been evaluated, according to 32 criteria of the environmental, social, and governance areas evaluated by the Copper Mark. “That existing documentation is reviewed to understand if the company has equivalent certifications or assurances already in place. One of the principles of our system is that the company may already have some certifications, and what we do is recognize those where they are equivalent to our criteria, reducing the times and recognizing what the participants have done until now”.

Brulhart explains that participating site have a year to prepare and undergo the assessment, but with the equivalence system it can be much faster. Once the site has been independently assessed and either “meets” or “partially meets” all 32 Criteria, it is eligible to carry the Copper Mark. Subsequently, the company has up to 12 months time to address any gaps between their performance and the requirements. Subsequently, and every 3 years, a new assessment of cthe riteria is made to verify compliance.

“The criteria that we apply are the Risk Readiness Assessment, created by the Responsible Minerals Initiative. They are designed for any formal type of site”, Brulhart says. “For a large site with more sophisticated management systems, it will be simpler and does not require two years to meet the requirements. But for smaller producers, this can be a journey to keep improving. That is why we start with the self-assessment process, where you can see where you are on the journey, and in which areas we have to work to reduce the gaps. It is designed to do it efficiently for companies that want to improve practices”.

Improve the industry as a whole

The goal is ambitious but achievable. Improve the industry as a whole, where the vast majority of producers start this process. “We hope that in 3 to 5 years a significant part of the copper producers will participate in this initiative. We are starting with the members of the ICA, because they are the founders of the concept, and they are expected to be early adopters, but we also want to reach small and medium producers who are not members”.

“One of the differences we have from other similar systems is that we do not want to simply distinguish best performing companies “, says the executive adding that “our vision is to improve the industry as a whole, so it is important to have events like the seminar on August 25, to try to reach the full spectrum of producers ”.

However, Brulhart points out that it will be difficult to enter to markets such as Asia, where there is less pressure from customers in the local market to have responsible production, so they are working on a strategy to be able to convey that this is a concern of both clients and investors.

Regarding the impact of Covid-19 in the sector, Brulhart explains that the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of having responsible practices not only limited to environmental performance, but also to the performance in the workplace, with own workers and contractors, and how it can be ensured that the site has a solid system to respond to any emergency.

The executive says that, while responsible production of copper is not yet a central issue on the media and market agenda in general, soon it will be. “This is good because it gives us time to develop The Copper Mark, but it is also challenging in terms of explaining to companies that this will be a requirement. Maybe not today, but in the near future”, she concludes.