BHP targets roots of global sustainability challenges

BHP Foundation chief executive James Ensor has addressed mining’s task to become more sustainable amid the protests outside the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne this week.

Ensor said society rightly expected business to make a broader contribution to big sustainable development challenges.

He attributed the movement to “a potent combination of fear for the future and anger at our collective inability” to address sustainability challenges.

These challenges are inequality, corruption, loss of public trust in institutions, climate change and water scarcity, according to Ensor.

“Eight-hundred million children – that’s roughly half of the world’s youth – will reach adulthood without the modern skills necessary to enter our workforces,” he said.

“The majority of these potentially disengaged, poor and angry young people also live in the rural and remote regions where our sector seeks a social licence and wants to draw our future workforces from.

“The hundreds of billions in taxes and royalties that our companies pay to our host governments should fund the health, education infrastructure and other services that lift people in resource rich countries out of poverty. But in far too many countries, it does not.”

This could determine where institutional investors place their capital now and in the future, according to Ensor.

BHP has recently shifted its approach from social licence to social value. The company’s effort focuses on three defining issues – natural resource governance, environmental resilience and education equity – which are considered to create “the greatest impact.”

The mining giant partners with Open Contracting Partnership to shine transparency spotlight on government contracting.

This is world’s top corruption risk and represents 57 per cent of corruption cases coming to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to Ensor.

Open Contracting exposed a corrupt $22 million cartel in the provision of school meals in Colombia, with 700,000 children previously receiving poor quality food at inflated prices.

BHP is also working with anti-corruption non-governmental organisation Transparency International (TI) to address corruption risks in the issuing of mining licences and tenements.

In parallel, BHP runs the Resilient Reefs project under the leadership of Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and partners with the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute to improve girls’ underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Of course, success won’t be quick or easy. These are enormous challenges we face,” Ensor said.

“Yet while it is early days for our projects, we know with the right people and support, it is possible to play a part in shifting the needle on the seemingly insurmountable.”

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