Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The minerals industry- the acceptable face of capitalism?

On Monday I will be opening Flotation '11, the largest MEI conference to date. The record numbers reflects the importance of the minerals industry in modern society. It feeds all other industries and is itself driven by the voracious appetites of emerging super-economies such as China, India and Brazil.

But what do these new powerful economies have in common? Ironically extreme poverty; a great yawning gap between the super-rich and the ultra poor. I notice this gap widening every time I visit South Africa, the main MEI Conferences venue, where the strengthening economy has considerably benefited the employed middle classes, while making life increasingly difficult for the unemployed.

I was born and raised in a cotton mill town in the north of England, where nothing had changed much since the Industrial Revolution. In the late 19th and up to the mid 20th centuries, capitalism was based mainly on manufacturing. The mill owners were the fat-cats of their day, but they provided plentiful employment from the middle-class skilled workers down to the working class unskilled workers.

It is very different today. Modern, avaricious and over-paid, fat-cats sit in front of computer screens, spending, borrowing, and gambling money that they do not have. Their particular skill does not lend itself to propagation down the skill-chain, so the gap between those who have and those who don't inevitably widens.

These people have, quite rightly, been vilified recently, but one of the industries which is often vilified, and quite wrongly, is the minerals industry. Very few people outside our industry have good things to say about it and there is always opposition to the building of a new mine. The argument is often that the mining company is only in it to make money. This is partly true, but in this respect they do not differ greatly from the old cotton-mill owners, and the reason that the mining company can make money is because of the demand for metals and minerals from everyone on the planet ("everything we touch is either mined or grown").

We cannot choose where to mine; geology dictates that most ore-bodies are found in remote, and often inhospitable, regions. A new mine provides direct employment for skilled and unskilled workers, but more importantly much employment is indirectly provided, due to the need to build new townships around a mine site, with all the amenities such as schools, hospitals, sports clubs, shops etc.

So, as we see capitalism coming under fire around the world, can we at least argue that the minerals industry is the acceptable face of capitalism?

3 comments:

  1. Quite right. Everybody looks mining industry in isolation forgetting everything they have, enjoy and take pride upon are mostly the products of mining. If this industry stops a while, everything goes haywire, as it happened here in Bellary dist, Karnataka. Let everybody realize this before making a comment and taking a decision.
    Nagaraj Kulkarni, Chaithanya Group of Companies, India

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  2. I don't think we are great self promoters mainly due to the lack of need until now for much external support. The industry really does some fantastic work these days with regards environment and social responsibility but we never openly promote it. I think we can be a bit worried the press will find an angle on whatever we promote and turn it against us so better not to talk at all!
    Sandy Gray, Gekko Systems, Australia

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  3. Capitalism does not deliver metals and minerals to society; mining does. A royal mine owned by a king and worked by slaves will also provide copper kettles for the cooks of a nation but it is not capitalism. Mining is no more the face of capitalism that the cosmetics industry, or most other industries for that matter.
    Kenneth Armstrong, Metallurgist, Canada

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