Minesite.com writes on CSR at M&M2013

Thursday, 5 December, 2013

Mines And Money Wraps Up For Another Year, With Controversy Thin On The Ground And Optimism About 2014 Just About Trumping This Year’s Misery

By Alastair Ford

There were no fights at this year’s RFC Ambrian party, the organisers of which, having learned the lessons of previous years, restricted access to invitation only. 

Nonetheless, Tuesday evening’s Mines & Money was not without conflict as police were called and set up sentry duty outside the Islington Business Design Centre, chatting to activists who somewhat bizarrely had come to picket the Women in Mining Event.

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and with certain long-standing PR professionals on the WIM team, the temptation was to think that it was all some sort of stunt.

But stunts weren’t necessary.

The WIM event went off in style, with several hundred attendees packing into the mezzanine-level conference hall to quoff champagne and beer at the expense of WIM’s generous sponsors, perusing all the while the latest WIM publication, the 100 most influential women in mining.

With the proviso that the women included in the list had to be nominated by someone else, it made for pretty interesting reading.

Some of the names were fairly predictable, like Cynthia Carroll. But also included were our very own jobs4mining star Janet Bewsey, who has helped place hundreds of mining people in influential positions around the world.

Inside the event there was some awareness of the protestors outside, but precisely what point they were trying to make remained unclear. Were they against women in mining, or just mining? Or were they women against mining?

No one seemed to care really. With Laurence Read’s CSR 21 taking an ever-more prominent role in the City, providing coverage and promotion of corporate and social responsibility, this isn’t an industry that feels – certainly at the respectable end at which London finance is involved – that it has any particular case to answer in terms of the ethics of mining.

If the protestors would care to dispense with their mobile phones, fridges, public transport, electrical wiring in their houses, and all the other essentials of every day life that carry metals, then maybe, just maybe they might deserve a hearing. On the other hand, they might then be dismissed as simple Luddites, or some sort of crazy Amish sect.

Not that there aren’t issues. It’s widely acknowledged that the Kimberley Process is flawed for example, and the connections between armed conflict and resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo remain one of the great open sores of the African continent.

On the whole though, this is an industry that’s prepared to pay its environmental and social dues, and which is very keen, in the face of a really lacklustre market, to try and get on and do some deals.

To that end, the feeling on the conference floor was that the best day was Tuesday. Monday was good as momentum built, but as mid-day wore on on Wednesday the feeling grew that the energy was spent.

Shutting the conference floor half an hour before Robert Friedland was due to speak was an interesting exercise in scheduling, since although Friedland remains undisputed as the leading draw in the mining world, many tired delegates with a half-hour void in front of them simply opted for departure.

But overall the feeling was that this year’s Mines & Money was better than last year, and if the money element wasn’t truly out in force, there were some useful investors walking the floor, and some useful people looking to do deals.

Delegates were unanimous that if London looks a bit lacklustre in its own terms right now, it is positively heaven compared to Toronto, which is still completely dead, a long way better than the ASX, which is flailing around especially as the gold price continues weak.

Rick Rule continued his relentless drumbeat that now is the time to go shopping, and plenty of investors and company directors agreed with him. Two questions followed, though.

One, having been heavily wiped out by all the value destruction that’s gone on over the past four years or so, where exactly are people supposed to summon up the appetite for more risk from?

And two, just because we may have bumped a little bit off the bottom in the final quarter of this year, doesn’t mean that a major upswing is at all imminent. Talk was that commodities are unlikely to perform particularly well next year, so that even if the equity markets do thaw and new money and new enthusiasm comes in, the gains are unlikely – with a few exceptions – to be spectacular.

After all, there are always one or two. It was notable that the team from Fission Uranium was keen to hit the town on Monday night – Monday! – but it takes a discovery of the scale of theirs to generate that kind of enthusiasm.

As for the rest, the networking was good, some useful conduits to finance were either opened or kept open, but the overall feeling was one of relief that the year is nearly over, and mild anticipation that next year could be a modicum better.