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Vale, Anglo American underline ESG issues as copper demand soars

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 12 (Reuters) - Global miners such as Brazil’s Vale, Anglo American PLc and Chile’s Codelco said they expect demand for copper to strengthen in coming years on growing demand for environmentally friendly cars, while the mining industry reckons with questions about its own sustainability.

Mining executives said during a webinar about copper on Friday that higher demand for the metal was an opportunity for the industry to improve its image by adopting more socially-conscious practices.

“The society will not tolerate the way we operated before,” said Ruben Fernandes, base metals CEO for Anglo American PLc, adding the industry now had an opportunity to build alliances with governments and populations to improve its image.

Two Vale SA dam bursts in a four-year period killed hundreds of people and caused extensive environmental damage in Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, drawing attention to issues of safety and risk.

Elsewhere, the industry is grappling with pollution, deforestation and labor disputes.

Fernandes said it remained unclear whether copper was entering a new “super cycle” as the metal reached the highest prices in almost a decade in London this week.

Mark Travers, Vale’s base metals director, said the company’s copper projects had synergies with its iron ore operations, with shared infrastructure.

Travers said the higher demand for copper was an “opportunity to do the right thing and work with local communities”, adopting sustainable practices.

Vale CEO Eduardo Bartolomeo recently said the company had a bullish outlook for the metal and intended to accelerate copper projects in the Carajas region, in the state of Para, where Vale has its largest iron ore mines.

Later, in a separate session, Juan Benevides, chairman of Chile’s Codelco, the world’s largest copper producer, said he expected demand for copper to keep rising over the next three to four years. (Reporting by Marta Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro. Editing by Mark Potter)

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