Stronger Together: Improving Security and Human Rights in Mineral Supply Chains

Instances of abuse of force by private and public security forces in artisanal, small-scale and large-scale mining operations around the world are increasingly being reported. Companies in mineral supply chains are expected to identify such risks and take action. DCAF’s Alan Bryden and Mirna Adjami, ICRC’s Claude Voillat and OECD’s Louis Maréchal and Benjamin Katz describe tools and initiatives developed by DCAF, ICRC and OECD to support this.

Any company that extracts or sources minerals from complex environments should ask tough questions about the role of public and private security forces in their business operations or supply chains: Have these security forces improved security for miners and communities, or rather perpetrated human rights violations? Where security forces present high risks of negative human rights impacts – as unfortunately remains the case in many conflict-affected and high-risk countries – what should a company do to prevent, mitigate, or redress security and human rights incidents?

Two complementary initiatives can help ensure that security and human rights are at the heart of responsible supply chains: the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains  and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights. The Voluntary Principles set standards for companies to adopt human rights compliant security measures around their operations. The OECD Guidance clarifies steps for companies to better understand their supply chains and ensure they identify and mitigate the risks related to conflict financing, human rights, security, corruption and money laundering. The Voluntary Principles have been applied mainly by large-scale miners (LSM). The OECD Guidance are applicable to both large scale mining companies and artisanal and small-scale operations (ASM). Considering the extensive and often fraught interface between LSM and ASM, there is broad overlap in the settings and situations to which the standards are applicable.    

Both initiatives promote multi-stakeholder dialogue and consultation to realise their objectives. To date, however, efforts to implement these initiatives have largely been undertaken independently of each other.

Joining the dots

To start addressing this gap, the OECD Centre for Responsible Business Conduct (RBC), the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) commissioned a study to explore the complementarities between the Voluntary Principles and the OECD Guidance.

The study concludes that both initiatives can increase their impact through fostering better linkages. For example, the Voluntary Principles can have greater reach by applying their best practice security and human rights standards to ASM contexts.In parallel, the OECD Guidance can be strengthened by involving more LSM actors with experience in implementing the Voluntary Principles in efforts to improve and expand implementation of responsible supply chain standards, including in challenging areas where LSM and ASM coexist.

In April 2021, the OECD-DCAF-ICRC webinar “Beyond the Perimeter: Situating and Responding to Security Contracting Risks in and Around Mining Sites” raised awareness of the study and encouraged stakeholders to take practical steps to link the initiatives on the ground. Discussions at the webinar confirmed that everyone stands to gain from increased coherence and mutual reinforcement of the Voluntary Principles and OECD Guidance.

Stronger together

The study offers three recommendations to ensure that security and human rights challenges are better addressed throughout the supply chain by linking the two initiatives.

Harmonise implementation of due diligence approaches to security and human rights

The regulatory landscape on human rights due diligence is becoming more robust and, in some ways, achieving greater coherence. it is also more complex simply due to the proliferation of new regulatory and market expectations. The study recommends that stakeholders engaged with the OECD Guidance and VPIs come together to increase security and human rights protections through developing a roadmap to maximise the impact of their respective efforts. This roadmap can help achieve coherence in due diligence implementation while minimising corporate compliance and audit fatigue.

For example, the World Gold Council’s Conflict-Free Gold Standard incorporates standards from both the Voluntary Principles and the OECD Guidance. DCAF and the ICRC also contributed to ensure the 2022 Responsible Minerals Initiative Framework includes references to the Voluntary Principles as part of their guidance on minerals due diligence. Finally, the London Metal Exchange Responsible Sourcing Initiative is based on the OECD Guidance, and therefore also references theVoluntary Principles.

Extend best practice security and human rights standards to ASM contexts

The experience of LSM actors in managing security and human rights challenges in accordance with the Voluntary Principles can be leveraged to support ASM actors in addressing similar risks. This would be to the benefit of all upstream and downstream actors in mineral supply chains.

ASM is critical for the economic and social development of communities in mineral-rich countries. Yet investors and downstream companies are reluctant to source from ASM given challenges in conducting due diligence and the often informal nature of the sector. One practical effort to help ASM operators meet international standards has been the Alliance for Responsible Minerals (ARM) Code of Risk-Mitigation for Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, known as the CRAFT Code. Since 2019, DCAF has partnered with ARM to integrate the security and human rights standards of the Voluntary Principles into CRAFT Code 2.0 and piloted ways that these standards can be applied at ASM sites in Colombia. An overview of this project can be seen in this video.

Support in-country multi-stakeholder working groups to apply the OECD Guidance and Voluntary Principles

In-country multi-stakeholder platforms should be harnessed to promote and apply both OECD Guidance standards and address security and human rights concerns covered by the Voluntary Principles.

The Voluntary Principles Working Group established in South Kivu, DRC is a leading example of what can be achieved. Through a project led by the Congolese NGO, Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP) with technical assistance and funding from DCAF’s Security and Human Rights Mechanism (SHRIM), the South Kivu Working Group established a clear evidence base that multi-stakeholder interventions can have concrete impacts on resolving security and human rights incidents on the ground.  In just one example in Nyabibwe, a dispute arose between rival mining cooperatives that had escalated into violence and the suspension of mining operations. The Working Group facilitated a joint agreement on security arrangements and helped ensure full access to the mining site, allowing all parties to resume mining in line with OECD Guidance standards and tangibly improving security and human rights protections. This example also shows concretely how companies carrying out supply due diligence could scale up such positive outcomes by using the same approaches as in Nyabibwe as part of their risk management.

Next steps

DCAF, the OECD and the ICRC are committed to taking the study’s recommendations forward and will continue to engage with industry initiatives to ensure that best practice standards from both the OECD Guidance and Voluntary Principles are applied. DCAF and the ICRC, in partnership with the Geneva Centre for Business and Human Rights, are also updating the Toolkit on Addressing Security and Human Rights Challenges in Complex Environments to inform both the LSM and ASM communities of the current state of play of international best practice standards.

Beyond standards, real change can be achieved through increased support to in-country projects that promote multi-stakeholder resolution of security and human rights concerns alongside the OECD Guidance. Although every context is unique, there are strong parallels in security and human rights concerns related to mining – both LSM and ASM – in regions such as Latin America, West Africa, and the Great Lakes Region of Africa. There is great potential for scaling up multi-stakeholder approaches that have an impact in improving security, preventing human rights violations and promoting sustainable development.

DCAF, the OECD and the ICRC look forward to new partnerships that will further the reach of the Voluntary Principles and OECD Guidance and strengthen respect for security and human rights in mining around the world.

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