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A look back at conference season 2017

From the Benchmark Minerals Cathodes Conference and the RMI and RBA Annual Meetings in California, to LME Week and the Responsible Sourcing Summit in London, our team was present across all of the major responsible sourcing, battery, and metals conferences over the last six weeks. We thought we would give you a snapshot of the key talking points from this year’s conference season.

Growing desire to integrate downstream due diligence with upstream interventions

Throughout this fall’s conferences we witnessed an increasing desire from global businesses, especially in the electrical, tech and automotive sectors, to push for further integration between due diligence and compliance initiatives in the downstream and upstream interventions to deliver real social and environmental improvements to mining communities and across national mining sectors more widely.

This is a hugely encouraging trend and also a trend that reflects the growing engagement of key downstream industries – specifically ICT, electrical, and automotive – in sustainable sourcing and the appetite to go beyond basic compliance. During the Responsible Business Alliance (formerly the Electrical Industry Citizenship Coalition) Annual Meeting our CEO, Dr Nicholas Garrett, joined Meera Pau Mehta of ArcelorMittal and our former colleague Michele Brulhart, now of the RBA itself, to discuss this issue while events at LME Week also focussed on how a more coordinated and integrated approach to sustainability can be achieved.

Pressure to prove good practice

While there has been little material change in the global legislative environment in 2017, much of the debate during the last month’s events focussed on the perceived increase in regulatory and overall external pressure on responsible sourcing and the increasing obligations to publicly report on good practice. Questions on what to report on and how were common while several discussions revolved around the status of regulatory and industry bodies and how industry accreditation and regulation can become more aligned.

One specific area which was highlighted was the imminent EU Legislation on Conflict Minerals Regulation which will come in to force in 2021 and effect several key tech metals. The regulation itself will be aligned to the OECD’S Due Diligence Guidance and the feedback we received during our discussions was that where possible the EU would be looking to recognise industry responsible sourcing programs and accreditations aligned with the OECD Guidance.

The tipping point for EV and the focus on battery metals

Undoubtedly 2017 has been the year the world took notice of electric vehicles. Projections on market growth for EVs remain speculative but the surge in lithium-ion battery demand is already upon us. The battery technology which has enabled the birth of a viable EV market still relies of five key materials (cobalt, lithium, nickel, manganese, and graphite) as we highlighted in our recent paper. Yet supply of some of these materials – specifically cobalt, lithium, and nickel –  remains constrained. Throughout this year’s industry forums, not least at Benchmark Minerals’ Cathodes 2017 Conference, the question of how the EV market and other core lithium-ion battery markets, such as electrical and ICT, can lock in battery mineral supply and do so sustainably was front and centre.

EV promises significant progress in lowering global carbon emissions but how to do this while also improving conditions in the upstream mining regions where battery materials come from is an issue which will dominate through the medium term. This is something RCS Global are actively working on.

Digitisation, AI, and blockchain

Finally, throughout all of the major metals and minerals events this fall, the other near-ubiquitous issue was the growing role of tech in mineral and metal supply chains. Implementation of blockchain technology for supply chain monitoring was seen as a virtual inevitability by many, yet the technology remains at a relatively nascent stage. Pilot projects being undertaken by companies including Everledger were highlighted while projects at specific stages of the supply stage focused on one or two transactions such as Bills of Lading were also discussed.

Outside of Blockchain broader discussions on the impact of current traceability and Chain of Custody Programs were also discussed, for example the Better Sourcing Program (BSP) was highlighted at this year’s Responsible Mineral Initiative Annual Meeting in California.

And finally, there was also discussion on the expanding role being played by AI from driverless truck convoys for mineral shipments to the use of automated drones to confirm stock checks all of which is being piloted now.

Continuing the conversation

RCS Global is actively engaged across most of the key industry discussions on responsible sourcing in minerals and metals. We also have a specific focus on sustainable sourcing in battery metals and you can view out latest research on this area here. If you would like to get in touch with us to discuss our research and commentary or to flag a specific issue you are interested in please do get in touch at any time.