04/12/2020

Responsibility in exceptional times

The coronavirus has had a tremendous impact on various industries. The Finnish mining sector has weathered the crisis well, writes Kimmo Collander of Finnish Network for Sustainable Mining on our blog.

Kimmo Collander
Secretary General, Finnish Network for Sustainable Mining

2020 will go down in history as the first year of a modern pandemic. We are now adjusting to a new normal, one that is markedly different from what preceded it. The movement and gathering of people have been severely curtailed around the world and, according to the IMF, the global economy is set to contract by almost 5% this year.

In what might be defined as our previous era of normality, crises tended to sharply bump up the price of precious metals and lower that of base metals. In a world dominated by COVID-19, this has not happened. As demand has declined, so has supply, leading to no collapses in price. While the price of nickel and lead have fallen slightly, the price of copper and even iron ore have risen significantly, not to mention that of precious metals. 

Finnish resilience

The Finnish mining sector has weathered the crisis well. The mines that have been able to continue their operations have been well compensated for their responsibility. And, setting aside any bottom lines, the people who work for these companies have made invaluable contributions in bearing the responsibility for their own health and that of their work community. The resilience of Finnish society as a whole has allowed Finnish mines to continue operating without any major disturbances. So far, the Finnish economy has been spared from any major shocks, and Finland has been able to maintain its material flows and energy supply without interruption.

In the spring, Agnico Eagle’s mines across the world were forced to suspend production for a few weeks, in accordance with the decisions made by the governments of Mexico and Canada. In comparison, the company’s mine in Kittilä was closed only partially, and for a mere 36 hours. A case of the coronavirus was detected at the mine in March, and the chain of infection was promptly traced by the health authority in charge. As a precautionary measure, the company halted its operations there, and thanks to its decisive actions, no further cases have been recorded. The mine has since been able to continue operating as efficiently – and responsibly – as before.

Taking the responsible road once a mine runs dry

The Pyhäsalmi mine is a good example of bearing a different kind of responsibility. Whenever a mine is set to be closed, concerns are inevitably – and rightly – raised about who will be responsible for the post-treatment and aftercare of the environment surrounding the mine. And, naturally, we must remember that the closure of a mine is of grave concern to the people who work there as well. Where will they make their living now? Will they need to relocate to a new region? These types of personal crises can accumulate and impact the prospects of an entire economic area.

The mine in Pyhäsalmi, which represents the largest recent mine closure in Finland, has entered its “terminal” phase. The staff at the mine have been provided with support to help them retrain and learn new skills, and even the opportunity to acquire new professional qualifications through apprenticeships, in collaboration with local educational institutions. They have also been provided with incentives to gradually start their own businesses, to help them ease in to this new phase of their lives.

For the City of Pyhäjärvi, which is home to just 5,200 inhabitants, the end of the mine has been a difficult blow, with 400 jobs lost in all. Together with the mining company, the city has begun envisioning new uses for the mine, the deepest of its kind in Europe. Currently, it is home to a cricket farming facility and various greenhouses. The city’s spearhead project is a pumped water power plant that will help even out the variation in wind energy production. Both the city and mining company have adopted an open-minded approach, and this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the mine has also served as a location for two major film productions: Veiko Õunpuu’s The Last Ones, Estonia’s official submission for the Oscars, and the Finnish-Swedish television series White Wall. I’m certain that they’re both well worth a look, and not just for a chance to spot a familiar sight.

Kimmo Collander

Secretary General, Finnish Network for Sustainable Mining