New Tech, New Deal: Mining policy options in the face of new technology

New technologies related to digitization, big data, and automation are transforming the the global mining sector in many ways. This report presents policy options to promote good governance as the industry evolves.
By Isabelle Ramdoo, Aaron Cosbey on September 13, 2021

The large-scale mining sector is on the cusp of a major transition. This is part of the broader Fourth Industrial Revolution in which new technologies transform industrial activities so they are more connected, information-richer, and more efficient in the use of labour and inputs. While relatively late to the game, mining stands to be changed as fundamentally as any other sector.

The results are already evident in terms of more efficient (and therefore usually more climate friendly) operations and fewer workplace accidents. However, in some cases there will be fewer people employed and fewer local goods and services purchased, even if new jobs are created. Those living closest to mine sites may face the most acute risks to livelihoods, with the slimmest chances for re-employment or re-deployment.

In those cases where that is true, the traditional deal between large-scale mining companies, local communities, and host countries is thrown out of balance. Employment and procurement are the most significant and important forms of value a mine can make to its host community/region—much more important locally than taxes and disproportionately important in poorer, less diversified economies. It is more than an expectation. It represents in some sense the “payment” in return for a mine’s potential impacts on the local social fabric and the environment and the exploitation of non-renewable resources. If the mine of the future brings much less of that value to a community or a host economy, what could be the elements of a new deal that brings us back to balance?

This report explores that question. It starts by reviewing the nature of the coming technologies and their various impacts in areas such as employment, gender equality, fiscal arrangements, and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). It then critically assesses some of the various possible elements of a new deal and considers the impacts and possibilities for marginalized groups before offering some concluding thoughts.

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