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A Practical View of ESG Practices in Brazil and Chile

Juliana Esper has over 25 years of experience working mostly for big companies within the mining industry in Brazil and Chile such as: Rio Tinto, Kinross Brazil, Xstrata, Kinross Chile and, Horizonte Minerals. Since 2020, she is leading the E&S strategies for the Araguaia Nickel Project (Horizonte Minerals). Having worked in both Chile and Brazil, Juliana processes insightful knowledge and practical experience relating to the different ESG practices across the two different countries. In this interview, Juliana explores and describes various ESG factors and how they are implemented using examples from her extensive experiences.

1 | You are leading the E&S strategies for the Araguaia Nickel Project, as Brazil’s next major ferronickel mine. Can you please tell me about your role on the project and your main challenges?

Our objective is to become a global reference for sustainable nickel projects.  I am privileged to be leading a very motivated and experienced team. Our goal is the development and implementation of the Environment, Health, Safety and Social integrated management systems, to ensure compliance with Brazilian Legislation and international standards. Also, we are working on the strategies for the local communities’ socio-economic development at the Project influence areas. My biggest challenge is to lead the implementation of this large-scale nickel greenfield project in a way that delivers value not only for our Company shareholders, but also for our valued community and hardworking employees.

2 | During your experience in ESG, what is an example of the company’s ESG approach having a positive effect on the company’s operations?

I had the opportunity to live through transformations of towns, where small cities become economic powerhouses in the region. We are at early stages of the mine project, the local community had no economic diversity, few education options, and as the mine projects grow the cities grow together. Responsible miners always promote relevant investments in socio-environmental projects, ensuring forest preservation, heritage and cultural projects, that enables a balanced and sustainable development.

3 | From a ESG point of view, what are the main differences between the challenges of Chilean Project and the Brazilian reality? 

With the globalization, I see the ESG good practice and lessons learned taking seriously in both Countries. My personal experience was in the High Andes far from the cities where we see indigenous communities still leaving in their ancestral lands and keeping the cultural heritage. The socio-environmental programs are different considering the culture of each place. In Brazil, I see big mining projects investing more in local infrastructure, educational programs, local agenda development whereas in Chile, we see monetary payments for the indigenous communities and development environmental, social, heritage and cultural programs. The relationship with indigenous  communities is the great challenge, especially in the creation of quality relationships, establishing trust frameworks that allow for the discussion of important issues for both them and also for companies. Ultimately, the challenge is the governance of these relationships, and the importance that each company gives to that. It is no longer enough to have adequate measures for impacts or voluntary agreements, the focus of the companies should be on the construction of a sustainable relationship.

Environmental challenges are also different. Chile has more challenges for fresh water availability and most of the big projects are supplying desalinized water for the projects. In Brazil, the environmental highlight is the safe tailings disposal.

4 | What did the mining industry learn from Samarco and Vale disasters?

We are lucky at Horizonte, that our Araguaia project does not have a tailings dam. However, I believe that Brazilian mining companies must follow the best international standards and good practices. We have several international Committees and Institutes providing guidelines and opportunities for exchanged knowledge and learn form other peers’ experience.

In the case of ESG, being in Compliance with World Bank Guidelines and IF Performance Standards enables the projects to avoid, mitigate, and better manage the environmental, social, and governance risks. I also highlight the improvement of supply-chain transparency and their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) profiles.

5 | In your view, what is the main social function of the mining industry? Can you give some samples of the legacy that a good work of the ESG team can offer to the communities? 

It is important that mining stays relevant and plays its part in global challenges, such as reducing GHG emissions. Raw materials, such as nickel and lithium are essential to move to an electrified future. The mining industry made a transformation in the modern and urban life providing most of the raw materials used by all industries such as fertilizers to supply agriculture, limestone and clay for cement industry, iron ore and several metals for the metallurgy industry. Those materials are used for build infrastructures and instruments of daily use, to obtain energy, water and to enable the production of most of foods, house and all industrial goods. Also, responsible miners deliver results that make a real and lasting positive contribution to society, and especially to the local communities.

The legacy besides the local communities’ development, the forest preservation and compensatory programs, the contributions to environmental heritage education programs among other good practices, is the opportunity to provide a pathway for the modern life innovations and to support the clean energy development. A good example is the use of nickel, it is a key metal used in stainless steel and battery technology. Nickel minimises corrosion, allowing the metal to last several decades without replacement. Clean energy technologies often rely on certain key metals which will be needed if they to continue to expand. Nickel is one of the metals needed for batteries and is expected to form an ever-larger proportion of future batteries.

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