Anglo says people and the planet a priority
One of the threads running through this year is the desire for renewal. The need for us, not only as South Africans but, more importantly, as earthlings, to find ways to be better in the world.
While this all might sound a little woolly, the reality is that we all have to take some action to improve the world we live in – and we all have to do it today, tomorrow and every day after.
As a step in the positive direction, this week Anglo American – a global company that employs 98 113 people, of which 72 000 are in South Africa – launched its sustainable development goals (SDGs) accountability dialogue series.
During the event, Anglo American announced its global sustainability pillars and how it has dovetailed these with 12 of the UN’s SDGs and with 10 of the 13 chapters in our own National Development Plan.
Andile Sangqu, executive head of Anglo American SA, said the UN Development Programme (UNDP) 2030 pledge to leave no one behind is personal to him, having grown up in rural Eastern Cape. He said the idea behind this recalibration of the company’s business strategy is to get beyond the lucky few when it comes to who escapes poverty and thrives.
“We need a framework to bring the marginalised into the mainstream.”
He said it was about each and every person and what their legacy is.
“What can you personally bequeath to our children?”
Though it is easy to talk the talk, Sangqu’s team says the most important part of the project will be the annual check-in – with this dialogue being the first – and demonstrable proof points. Every year the company’s stakeholders will come together to hold Anglo American to account on its global stretch goals, which are derived from three pillars – trusted corporate leader, thriving communities and healthy environment.
Among these stretch goals are some pretty big asks for a mining company: carbon-neutral mines, waterless mines in scare catchments, and to create five jobs outside of mining for every one mining job. The company plans to deliver on these by 2030 – 12 years from now.
According to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last month, 12 years is all we have to make changes before the planet is beyond repair.
Sure, corporate trust in global companies – and local ones – couldn’t be lower, with a series of them embroiled in corruption scandals that show off their ethical leadership vacuum.
However, Sangqu believes “the past nine years have created an opportunity for us”, adding that handing out blame isn’t the best way to move forward. Rather, he says, we should all work together to rebuild trust.
He concluded: “There is a yearning for this kind of leadership; to think differently about our problems; for a new momentum for change.”
Nardos Bekele-Thomas, UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in South Africa, who was one of the speakers, was clear that while the UN had done a good job of putting checks and balances to measure governments’ progress in terms of the 17 SDGs, they were lacking when it came to putting in place measurements of in-country commitments.
She called on government to make the Anglo American dialogue “best practice for the South African private sector” and praised the company for its “acknowledgment of corporate accountability”.
She also challenged “the private sector to move beyond [corporate social investment]”, and to rather innovate sustainably.
“Becoming a trusted corporate is a huge responsibility given the realities of South Africa’s political economy,” she said, and made reference to the image of corporates being “severely dented by recent governance issues” and said restoring this trust would be “hard work”.
However, she was positive about Anglo American’s commitment to re-engineer business models to “respect the rights and dignity of people and the planet”.
Richard Morgan, head of government relations for Anglo American, discussed how the company would take foreign direct investment beyond just “jobs and tax”, and make it about how companies work towards the SDGs.
While we are all rightly sceptical, corporates that do commit to being transparent and transformative could play an important role in helping short-sighted governments make the right choices for the dignity of people and the planet in the long term, and not just rack up jobs and taxes to convert into votes for the next election.