New Human Rights Policy Doubles Down on Ixtaca’s BenefitsBy Cas Biekmann | Wed, 08/25/2021 - 16:15
Through its Mexican subsidiary Minera Gorrión, Canada’s Almaden Minerals, owned a multimillion-ounce flagship deposit in Puebla and needed an environmental permit to begin operations, nevertheless such permit was denied in 2020. As a result, the company today is doubling down on its social and environmental benefits with a new human rights-focused policy.
The Ixtaca Gold Silver deposit is one of the most noteworthy Mexican discoveries in recent history. According to Almaden, the deposit hosts a proven and probable reserve of 1.38Moz of gold and 85.1Moz of silver. Drilling has revealed 73.1 million tons grading 0.59 g/t Au and 36.3 g/t Ag. Through further drilling programs and exploration, Ixtaca could be increased much further. The project would provide plenty of jobs as well: 75 local working positions, plus 600 jobs for the construction stage and 420 for its development. For a small municipality like Ixtacamaxtitlán, migration to find employment would be one of the only other options.
Despite the project’s promise, it has run into issues on the regulatory front by having its Environmental Impact Statement (MIA) rejected by SEMARNAT and a judicial suspension, called an amparo in the Mexican context, which contested the concession. Almaden previously sought to alter its concession to a new model, which would not include the ejidos that instigated the amparo since the operation would not reach their land. To address these issues, Almaden is doubling down with a human rights policy. “Even though this concerns an environmental permit, the issue we need to address is one with the community. Inspiring confidence in the operation from the community is key,” said Daniel Santamaria, VP Mexico of Almaden Minerals.
“We have more than 20 uninterrupted years of responsible mining exploration. The basic values of our company are inclusion and human rights,” Santamaria continued, stressing that such a policy was already a core part of the operations but that the company nonetheless felt the need to double down.
“Almaden has a demonstrable and long-standing commitment to conducting its business in a manner which promotes the quality of life of local people. However, as the Ixtaca project advances , so does its potential to impact human rights both directly and indirectly. This policy reflects the importance of these matters to Almaden, and reiterates the priority we place on human rights when it comes to project design and operation throughout the life cycle of the project and beyond, with the intent that only positive impacts occur,” said Duane Poliquin, Chairman of Almaden Mineral in a statement.
As part of the human rights-based focus, the mining company seeks to address its social license. “At Almaden, we firmly believe that permanent social licenses do not really exist. They must be earned and nurtured every single day, working together with local communities, government institutions, media and other relevant stakeholders,” Santamaria told MBN earlier this year.
A strong focus on communication is crucial to challenge misconceptions and change the perception of the mine to one that is closer to reality. Through education, Almaden hopes to improve the collective knowledge of mining and its effects. “People might have the perception that a mine is going to destroy their land and damage their water supply. However, the reality today is that modern mining standards require numerous safeguards, state-of-the-art engineering and water-management protocols to monitor and prevent that from happening. The goal is actually to improve water quality in the area if possible. Our social management program includes tools so that stakeholders and communities can verify that water sources have been protected,” he said. Providing access to medical facilities in the fight against COVID-19 and to improve local healthcare has been another important issue for Almaden, as well as reforestation and sustainability education projects.
Ixtaca is considered a “vanguard” project when it comes to ESG criteria, said Santamaria. The water needed to operate will also benefit the surrounding communities. Almaden furthermore aims to leave this infrastructure for the community’s benefit after it stops operating there. The mine does not further endanger any wildlife or affect archeological sites. The project allows for dry tailings storage, so it does not need a potentially dangerous tailings dam. Because the zone’s geology is favorable, Almaden says it will be able to restore the previous environmental conditions in the area after the mine’s life cycle. An artificial lake and backfilling will make this a possibility.
Cooperation and participation will be the core of the new approach. “We should not focus our actions on what is ‘owed’. We should focus on shared values and benefits on all levels of the operation,” said Santamaria. In this regard, Almaden has facilitated meetings with over 20,000 locals in an open-door policy. Locals, academic institutions, media and NGOs alike are allowed to visit the operation whenever they please so that the company can explain to them how it functions. Santamaria emphasizes that despite the negation of the MIA, authorities have never made use of this possibility.
For the company, it is now key to continue its social integration and contribution to nearby communities. Santamaria says Almaden will amplify its efforts to spread the benefits of Ixtaca to local communities. By fostering a greater social cohesion, conflicts can be avoided. Then, the company will prepare a new MIA, which will include its recent efforts on the ESG front. “We need greater support from governments and environmental authorities to continue with our projects. Almaden Minerals has ESG in its DNA and we want to prove it,” Santamaria concluded.