The ICMM, the International Council on Mining and Metals, whose key concern is to foster collaboration between government, civil society and the private sector, held an internet seminar on 13 July. The topic was what mining companies had learned from the corona experience in regard to partnerships and collaboration from which learning can be taken through to a post-Covid world.

The panellists were three CEOs: Mark Cutifani of Anglo American, the company that owns Quellaveco in Moquegua; Tania Constable of the Mineral Council of Australia; and – of particular interest for Peru – Juan Luis Krueger of Minsur, whose company runs the tin mine San Rafael in Puno, which currently produces 12% of world supply. It is unusual for a Peruvian-owned and run company to be included in such a panel. The moderator was Tom Butler, CEO of ICMM.

The participants found much that was positive for their companies in the Covid experience. Having to react to the crisis with limited infrastructure had forced companies to be more flexible, to find new ways of working in a hurry. But above all, they affirmed, relations with communities had changed.

Both Anglo and Minsur felt that communities, and even society more widely, had come to understand better the role the companies play in securing supply lines so that vital provisions (of food and so forth) could continue. Cutifani stressed that Anglo had learned that its employees had helped generate a change in culture and better practices such as observing health protocols; once they had taken these onboard, they could take the message back to their communities.

A rather more disconcerting view was that the companies had managed to strike a closer relationship with ‘people on the ground’, as opposed to community leaders. The view from the Minsur management in particular was that leaders often had agendas and interests of their own and bypassing them had therefore been fruitful.

All three CEOs believed that the Covid-19 crisis had further convinced policy makers of the importance of the mining industry. The industry’s ability to respond – “cutting edge” in Constable’s words – was the reason it was now leading reactivation. Not mentioned was the fact that governments were being obliged by economic necessity to create special regimes for the mining sector given its leading role in maximising export revenues.

The focus of the seminar seems somewhat odd, given the immense damage done by Covid-19 and the way corporate pressure has risked premature and potentially dangerous reopening of mines and a weakening of regulation. The first question to come through from the invisible audience was to the point: was this not an attempt to whitewash the reputation of the sector, presenting it as the saviour? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the participants all vigorously denied this was the case.