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Mine 2021

Great expectations, seizing tomorrow

This year’s Top 40    

The Top 40 mining companies have come out of the storms of 2020 in excellent financial shape. 

Mining is one of the few industries that emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis in excellent financial and operational shape. In fact, 2020 was a banner year for the mining sector.

And things are expected to get even better for the world’s biggest mining companies.

The Top 40 mining companies have never been in a stronger financial position to make a big, bold pivot towards the future. And the future is already visible today: the world is in the midst of an era-defining transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

Making environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues the core of organisational strategy gives big miners a compelling path to build trust, grow and produce sustained outcomes.  

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Explore this year’s key trends shaping the mining industry

Although many of the Top 40 understand the importance of ESG, some still see it as just another box to tick. But ESG represents one of the mining industry’s most significant opportunities for long-term value creation, building trust and sustainable growth. They need to engage with their stakeholders and start to ‘bake’ ESG into the core of their strategies. Miners must set targets regularly, report progress transparently and refine their approach continually. Miners need to demonstrate that they not only understand the risks and opportunities of ESG but are committed to addressing them in everything they do. 

Mining companies are concerned about tax policy uncertainty, but few are doing much about it. With increasing pressure to disclose, and significant upside to be gained from doing so, miners should embrace tax transparency as an integral part of their ESG strategy.

The mining industry, which has been slow to embrace tax transparency, can no longer afford to remain silent. In order to impact tax policy, strengthen relationships with stakeholders and open the door to ESG investment, mining companies must do a better job of reporting on their tax policies, tax risk management and governance strategies related to taxes.

The Top 40 remained resilient during the pandemic. Strong balance sheets and prudent capital management helped deliver outstanding results well ahead of forecasts. Now, as the world emerges into an indeterminate ‘COVID normal’ phase—manifested by much lower levels of the virus but uncertainty about rates of infection in different parts of the world—miners will be faced with a renewed stakeholder focus with a decidedly different flavour: it’s not just how you mine but what you mine, how it is processed and how it is used further down the supply chain. With their recent financial performance, the Top 40 are ideally placed to deliver the materials needed to satisfy the heightening emphasis on decarbonising the global economy.

Last year, the Top 40’s balance sheets were considered rock solid. This year, they are looking even better. The critical question is: what should companies do with their war chests?

The Top 40 continue to divest themselves from thermal coal in a bid to protect shareholder value. But few are looking at the upside of ESG-led deals. ESG offers miners a chance to grow by targeting and acquiring advantaged assets that will continue to expand in value as a low-carbon future unwinds.

Rather than viewing ESG through a defensive lens, miners should see it as a driver of long-term value. Taking an ESG-led approach to M&A can help the Top 40 identify a new class of advantaged assets. These assets meet traditional benchmarks, such as standards for minimum grade and size of deposit, and score high on ESG criteria, such as a low carbon footprint, stable government and supportive local communities. 

The hurdles presented by the pandemic have acted as a catalyst for much-needed change in the mining industry. The challenge for the Top 40 is to take their new ways of working and create a strategy for success in a ‘COVID normal’ world. It's time to shift gears from short-term adaptation to long-term transformation.

This time last year, no one knew how long the pandemic would last. Now, it’s clear that COVID-19 will be with us for some time, with varying rates of infection and different degrees of pre-pandemic life from one country or even community to the next. While the short-term response to the crisis worked, it’s time for a shift in thinking: how do miners succeed in a ‘COVID normal’ world? The decisions the Top 40 make will determine the shape of the industry—and their place in it—for years to come. Three factors should be uppermost to consider: rethinking supply chains, focusing on employee retention and community safety, and embracing automation. 

Resourcing a more sustainable future

The challenges of COVID—and the new normal manifested by uncertainty about infection rates in different parts of the world—and environmental sustainability have created a volatile landscape that presents an opportunity for genuine, transformational change in the mining industry. Thanks to their excellent financial position, the Top 40 are better placed than most companies in other fields to pivot towards long-term value and growth. Now is the time for miners to make their move.

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