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Investor group turns up heat on mining tailings dam laggards

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Brazilian artist Mundano works on a mural with different colour paints made with dirt and mud brought from the site of the January 25, 2019 collapsed tailing dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA to honour victims of the disaster, in S

By Clara Denina and Simon Jessop

LONDON (Reuters) -A group of investors managing more than $25 trillion said they plan to challenge mining companies that have not yet committed to a tailings dam best-practice standard and may vote against management at upcoming annual meetings.

The Investor Mining and Tailings Safety Initiative was launched in August 2020 in response to the Brumadinho disaster in Brazil where 270 people were killed when a tailings dam collapsed.

So far 77 listed mining companies, including the world’s largest BHP and Rio Tinto (NYSE:), have signed up to a tougher code of conduct.

Tailings dams are embankments constructed near mines to store waste in a liquid or solid form.

But 126 companies, many of them smaller, have yet to commit to the standard, leaving their shareholders, insurers, and banks facing greater risk, the investor group’s chair Adam Matthews told Reuters.

The initiative names China’s Zijin Mining Group Co Ltd, which has also mining interests overseas and has previously run into trouble with tailings dams, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned miner Ma’aden, Grupo Mexico and its subsidiary Southern Copper (NYSE:) Corporation, among those companies not conforming with the standard.

In a statement to Reuters, Grupo Mexico said the company, including Southern and other subsidiaries, is committed to “zero damage to health and safety of our employees, communities and the environment throughout the life cycle of our tailings systems,” in line with the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management.

Zijin and Ma’aden did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“It’s still concerning that you’ve got over 100 companies that … haven’t been responsive to the engagement we’ve been doing,” said Matthews, who is also Chief Responsible Investment Officer for the Church of England Pensions Board, a member of the investor group.

The initiative said it wants commitments from laggard companies within the next year, and clarity on when they would implement the standard.

But Matthews said the Church of England Pensions Board would vote against any companies not conforming or complying with the standard that have annual meetings over the next few months.

“We will be voting against the chair of the company … and we’ll also consider filing a shareholder resolution as well,” he said. He also said other members of the initiative could well do likewise but would make their own decision on how to vote.

To date, more than 14,000 active and legacy tailing dam facilities across 77 countries have been collated in a global public registry.

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