September 12, 2012

Setting World Standards

governance

Goldcorp helps create new global guidelines for conflict-free gold.

When Ounesh Reebye was seconded to the World Gold Council (WGC) to help develop its Conflict-Free Gold Standard, he couldn’t have predicted the contrast with his regular duties as Manager, Treasury and Risk Management at Goldcorp.

Instead of poring over spreadsheets and running numbers at his desk in downtown Vancouver, Reebye travelled extensively: visiting mines in remote regions of Ghana and Mexico; consulting banking executives and jewellery makers in some of China’s largest cities; and strategizing with industry professionals, government officials and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in London boardrooms.

Reebye’s intense six-month secondment was part of the WGC’s goal to develop new guidelines to ensure gold does not contribute to armed conflict, human rights abuses or breaches of international humanitarian law.

Along with a team of WGC professionals, industry peers and stakeholders, Reeybe helped develop, stress test and pilot the Gold Standard. “My job was to test the draft Standard to ensure it was practical, implementable and auditable at a mine site level, while checking that we were leveraging existing management systems and process controls to demonstrate conformance,” says Reebye.

The latest “Exposure Draft” was released in March, near the end of Reebye’s posting, and is currently undergoing another process, with expectations to be ready for approval by the WGC Board later this year or in early 2013.

“A lot of Ounesh’s hard work went into the draft,” says Terry Heymann, WGC Director, Responsible Gold, who worked closely with Reebye during the secondment. Ian Telfer, Chairman of Goldcorp and the WGC, says Reebye’s role was twofold: “To assist the WGC with the guidelines as a representative of a producer, and to get a sense of the role and activities of the WGC. He was successful in achieving both.”

According to the WGC, conformance with the Gold Standard must be assessed by external assurance providers. The WGC and its members, including Goldcorp, will continue to work to ensure that it complements and integrates with other industry frameworks, and remains underpinned by a declaration of principles that include commitments to respect human rights and prevent direct or indirect support of illegal, armed groups. The Standard must also be credible and pragmatic, which Reebye’s work helped ensure, Heymann says. “Part of Ounesh’s role was to help us work through those challenges and to better understand the links between gold sales and what happens at the mine site,” says Heymann. “The overall process depends on the integrity of the handover from the mine to the next participants in the supply chain. Having someone there from one of our member companies, who understands how the process works, was invaluable.” Reebye was well aware of the importance of conflict-free gold production before the assignment, but says the experience opened his eyes as to other realities in the industry, including some of the dangers in artisanal mining in developing countries in Africa.

“We live in a bubble when we work in an office. You hear about it, you read about it, you see it on the news. To be down on the ground and see the impact and the conditions these people live in – it completely changes your outlook on why this is a problem,” he says. One experience in particular hit home for Reebye. In Ghana he saw an illegal artisanal mine operated by mothers with children on their backs, without any safety gear whatsoever, climbing in and out of open pits, handling mercury and working with makeshift smelters in their homes. “It’s very sad when you visit these places. It’s amazing this type of mining continues to exist,” says Reebye.

The assignment also took him to parts of Ghana where former illegal artisanal mines, located close to farmland, had been evacuated by the military and since abandoned. “Seeing the negative impact that uncontrolled mining has on the environment was eye-opening. It made me realize that this is a much bigger problem than I had ever imagined, and helped put into perspective why the Conflict-Free Gold Standard is being developed.”

While Reebye is now back at Goldcorp in Vancouver, he remains a WGC ambassador for the Gold Standard and other responsible mining initiatives. “The whole experience has given me a stronger appreciation of mining, the people who work in the industry, and the dangers and challenges we face,” says Reebye. “It has also given me a more global view of mining and a better understanding of the role of the WGC.”

This was the first time the WGC has done a secondment, but it won’t be the last.“The WGC is continuing to improve the communication between the council and its members,” says Telfer. “I think it was a positive experience for both sides, and the WGC plans to continue the process going forward with secondments from other members.”

A dialogue has already begun, with monthly activity reports and presentations by the WGC to representatives of the industry. “The secondment program is the latest step,” Telfer says.

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