It’s June 2016 at the Chateau de Montvillargenne, France. Representatives from the World Initiative of Mining Lawyers (WIOML) have gathered for the second WIOML conference and annual meeting, designed to review changes around the world in the area of mining regulation and policy.
By the time the conference is over, it could stand as a significant date in the history of mining as the WIOML launches a Model Mining Code, a model to influence and guide mining countries in attracting and securing fair benefits from mineral exploitation within their borders.
WIOML is an organisation dedicated to resource policy review, to advance knowledge of mineral regulation worldwide through global participation of leading professionals, academics and policy makers to foster an informed understanding of legal issues related to mineral exploration and mining.
Naturally, such a wide range of voices from different governments and environments presents a challenge of establishing one singular cohesive vision.
“The biggest challenge is trying to find harmony and agreement as to what is a sensible policy and what isn’t,” says Al Gourley, Partner Fasken Martineau; Chairman and Director of WIOML.
“One has to be very open with the various voices of disagreement and perspectives as you try and put together a common position.”
This is where the WIOML conference comes in, to encourage debate and discussion and bring about a clear collective means for change. Established in 2014, WIOML 2016 marks only the second annual conference, but for Gourley the conference and the model mining code launch itself represents a significant success for the organisation so early into its mission.
“The quality of those people attending both last year and this year’s conference is extremely encouraging. We are looking at world leaders in resource law who are attending and engaging with the code, the conference program and the initiative in general,” says Gourley.
The model mining code, Gourley, believes is the epitome of the challenges the initiative faces when trying to articulate a position that’s free as possible from critique when considering what is a sensible policy and what isn’t.
One method of doing this is by encouraging debate, reflection and in some cases, even critique of existing mineral policies around the world.
“This presents us with an opportunity to have some influence ultimately on the choices people are making within the industry,” says Gourely.
This is not WIOML looking to control and govern the industry, rather to open a dialogue which allows policy makers to ask themselves what makes a good policy that is healthy for the industry. Gourley has seen over the last 15 years that most mining codes that are adopted across the industry, particularly in Africa, have been from a more negative angle than a positive one.
“This is something that cannot continue, otherwise we won’t have an industry anymore,” says Gourley.
For WIOML it is not about doing what the initiative thinks is best, rather taking stock of both good and bad examples of mineral policy across the world and creating something of a “best practice” that can be adopted universally.
“We want to influence those choices and an open debate about the reason why people are making policy choices that are averse to the industry, favouring communities or the environment or government without in some cases the appropriate tools to the finely chisel what is they are trying to achieve with, for example, discretion in legislation,” he said.
For an initiative like WIOML to work it takes more than just a successful conference, it takes having the right people involved who can drive the initiative forward and ultimately create a more transparent and successful industry of mineral policy makers.
WIOML has worked with organisations such as global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, Simmons & Simmons to drive the content of the WIOML program and reach out to people who can speak to the issues involved in policy making. Through the close working with world leaders in resource law, Gourley believes there is a strong credibility to what WIOML is trying to achieve.
At the 2016 WIOML conference, a representative from the World Bank was invited as a key note speaker which “speaks volumes” as to who WIOML wants to engage with.
“We want to engage with those machining mineral policy. The entire program is policy driven and we are looking to engage with NGO’s, communities and community leaders and ministries considering revising policies,” says Gourley.
A further example of the way in which WIOML engages with the right people is through an agreement established with the University of Dundee in which it will send its masters students to WIOML as means of creating a deeper connection with the academic community.
The model mining code is not the first mining code established across the industry, nor will it be the only iteration from WIOML.
“It’s the first iteration and we have no intention of letting it stagnate,” says Gourley
There are examples of mining codes adopted across the industry that look very similar to the model mining code and WIOML will continue to look at what is successful in the policy codes of Australia, Canada, the U.S etc. and incorporate those key elements into the model mining code in a way that is easily adoptable across different jurisdictions.
“It is designed to say; these are key principles and key reasons as to why these principles are important. This looks at fairness in licence and license allocation for example so it’s not discretionary – its transparent who gets the licence,” says Gourley.
In creating a model mining code, WIOML also took into consideration the financial demands of the mining industry. Gourley says that WIOML is approaching the model mining code “unabashedly” from the miner’s perspective.
“It’s about advocating for investors who want to see certain things in a mining regime before making investment, or at the very least present the investors perspective for what would be an ideal model for purposes of encouraging investment,” he says.
Looking to the future, WIOML is already working towards next year’s conference, which will be held in Madrid. The location choice for the conference, the first in London and this year’s conference in Paris is a very intentional choice.
Once again, it boils down to reaching out to the right people in the best possible way.
“We had it in London first time around as it is where we are based but also its an international city. It’s about trying to reach out and being relevant in multiple languages while reaching out to the largest audience – the world,” he says.
WIOML chose France to reach out the French speaking countries such as the Côte d’Ivoire and the 2017 WIOML conference will be held in Madrid, to reach out to the Central and Southern Americas.
Where does WIOML want to see future of the mining industry?
“We’d like to see the industry develop to a point where mining companies, NGOS and governments are all actively participating and engaged in policy discussion,” says Gourley.
“That’s our real goal. So far we’ve made some inroads in the mining industry and we need to make further inroads with those NGO’s and policy makers. The conference is ultimately a way of simply measuring our success.”