Global Witness Interview on Chinese mining guidelines, Part 1

Thursday, 19 March, 2015

This is Part 1 of our three-part interview with Lizzie Parsons, Senior Advisor, China at Global Witness. Watch this space for parts 2 and 3 early next week.

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Some time ago, before conference season descended and swept everything aside in a tide of tweets, we went to see Global Witness - ever reliable source of well referenced press releases and no strangers to these pages. Why? Well: late last year the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Minerals, Metals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters (mercifully abbreviated to CCCMC) released new guidelines that, in Global Witness’ words, “offer mineral companies chance to reduce conflict, corruption risks and show value to host communities.” We wanted to know whether this really was indicative of a sea change, in a country where the resources industry is not known, fairly or otherwise, for its environmental or social sensibilities. And who better to ask, we thought, than Global Witness, who co-launched the guidelines in October 2014 and who are very often first into the breach when companies or governments overstep the lines.

“It’s all to play for,” said Lizzie Parsons, Senior Advisor for China at Global Witness. “The real work starts here.” She - and by extension Global Witness - see the new guidelines as a promising start to greater Chinese initiative on the important issue of conflict minerals, as well as wider issues of responsible corporate engagement by Chinese mining companies.

We asked if she saw the new guidelines as something specific, an admirable but isolated move designed to spark change, or whether perhaps it was something indicative of a more general movement.

“I think it reflects a general movement, both in terms of what mining companies are doing and also because there are other guidelines in development for different sectors. For example, the State Forest Administration and the Chinese Academy of Forestry have been developing their third set of guidelines on overseas timber trade and investment- important given that China is the biggest importer of illegal timber from around the world.”

Global Witness argues that this move towards increase regulation and transparency shows that the Chinese government and associated departments not only recognise the scope for doing business better, but also are prepared to make public commitments in that regard. Following up on the mining guidelines, for example, the CCCMC are in the process of developing a further set of guidelines related to overseas natural rubber investments. Broadly speaking, while an overview of the Chinese marketplace suggests that we’re very much at the start of a process, there’s currently no shortage of promising indicators that things could be done better.

How the guidelines came about is of interest, and illustrates rather neatly the degree to which large and varied cohorts of stakeholders are often required to bring such high profile ideas to fruition. Initially an initiative of German development agency GIZ, who approached CCCMC with a proposal about 18 months previous to publication, the development process involved a number of other actors. The guidelines were put together over the course of a year, with resources, consultancy and a schedule for development provided up front. Crucially, good consultation periods were built into the timetable, during which draft versions of the guidelines were posted online, shared with major companies and presented to public workshops and conferences for comment and feedback—a process that Parsons summarises as laudable and in accordance with best practice under international standards.

It was during these consultation stages that Global Witness’ involvement began, as they fed in comments and made submissions primarily to strengthen the guidelines’ language where it addressed two of their key campaigning areas: conflict minerals; and financial transparency as a means to combat corruption for companies and host countries. That said, Parsons was keen to point out that the guidelines cover a range of important issues, including labour conditions, environmental issues, and human rights concerns—and to give them depth as well as breadth, they also draw on multiple set of global standards in order to ensure good training and outreach to companies based in mainland china.

Crucially, though, Parsons is keen to underline what is emerging as the most important message: while this new initiative signals a welcome and very public change in mood, there is still a great deal of work to do to build on such a promising start. This is planned to be accomplished through encouraging and strengthening collaboration with business associations overseas, Chinese business associations, embassies, civil society groups, representatives of ministries of commerce based in embassies round the world… the real task of translating the intentions behind the guidelines into concrete real-world change is huge.

It’s not, however, daunting—as becomes apparent when we ask whether the political will is really there to take on such a task.

“It is there,” affirms Parsons, “because the guidelines wouldn’t have been published otherwise. The Ministry of Commerce spoke at the launch event, and the Ministry is supportive of Global Witness, and other groups, to work with CCCMC on a follow-up to the guidelines. So we know there’s government support for it.” Keen to point out that there really is a positive story here, Parsons also emphasises how Ministry of Commerce officials are actively encouraging the CCCMC and external parties, as much as domestic groups, to become involved in the follow up.


In Part 2 next week, we discuss whether or not a new ethical outlook is taking hold in China, and what that might mean

IMAGE courtesy of Global Witness 

TACKLING CONFLICT MINERALS: How a new Chinese initiative can address Chinese companies' risks, is available at: