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Welby hosts mining reflection day at Lambeth

24 October 2014


Hard-earned: Iranian coal miners eat lunch at a mine near the City of Zirab, in a mountain in Mazandaran province, north-east of Tehran, in August 

Hard-earned: Iranian coal miners eat lunch at a mine near the City of Zirab, in a mountain in Mazandaran province, north-east of Tehran, in Au...

REPRESENTATIVES of the mining industry met at Lambeth Palace earlier this month for a day of reflection.

Hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the Methodist Conference, the event was held in response to a request from "senior representatives of a group of mining companies" seeking "Christian ethical input to their conversations about the future of their industry", a statement from Lambeth Palace said. It explored "how mining can contribute to the Common Good in the years to come".

During the event, Archbishop Welby suggested that "the natural-resources curse undermines even responsible companies' best efforts, even in highly developed countries," and asked why the "large majority of resource-rich regions have not benefited from those resources in the long term".

The chief executive of Anglo American, Mark Cutifani, said: "The mining industry is about people and relationships. . . If we do not reach out and collaborate, our industry is not sustainable."

The Church Commissioners have significant invesments in the mining industry, including stakes in Anglo American, Antofagasta, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, and Glencore. On the day of reflection, Rio Tinto confirmed that it had rejected a takeover bid from Glencore, preventing the creation of the world's largest publicly listed mining company.

On Tuesday of last week, the Church Commissioners' head of responsible investment, Edward Mason, spoke of discussions with Glencore as an example of successful engagement with the industry: "The Ethical Investment Advisory Group raised concerns about sulphur-dioxide pollution from Glencore's copper-smelter in Mufulira in Zambia, having received reports of health problems in the community from the diocese of Bath & Wells, whose link with the Anglican dioceses in Zambia dates to the 1970s. Glencore subsequently brought forward its investment plans, so that sulphur-dioxide capture was implemented at the smelter early and completed this year rather than by 2015, as the company had previously undertaken.

"Very rarely, the EIAG finds that it is unable to engage productively."

In 2010, the Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pensions Board sold their £3.8-million holdings in the UK-based company Vedanta Resources over "concerns about the company's approach to relations with the communities where it operates" (News, 10 February 2010).

The vice-chair of Operation Noah, Mark Letcher, speaking Wednesday of last week, welcomed the "consideration" being given to mining by the churches, "particularly at a time when we know that the major part of existing reserves of fossil fuels need to remain in the ground, in order to maintain a healthy and viable planet".

He said: "We are calling on the Church Commissioners to join the growing number of Churches in the UK and around the world disinvesting from fossil-fuel companies, and to invest instead in companies developing clean-energy alternatives."

At the opening of a new mine in Central Queensland on Monday of last week, the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbot, spoke out in favour of the continued mining of coal. He said: "Let's have no demonisation of coal. Coal is good for humanity; coal is good for prosperity; coal is an essential part of our economic future, here in Australia, and right around the world."

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