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FAQs

These frequently asked questions aim to provide comprehensive information about Bettercoal. If you have any further questions not included here, please contact irena.popa-antohi@bettercoal.org.

The contents of this page include:

Key information

  • Bettercoal was established in 2012. In the first few years we consulted a wide range of global stakeholders, thanks to which we created the Bettercoal Code as it stands today.
  • This is a business driven initiative, however we seek to continuously engage with stakeholders – for example supporting mines following Site-Assessments and demonstrating on-going improvement of mines, through our Technical & Advisory Committee.
  • We bring on-the-ground, independent assessment and improvement at coal mines through our programs and help mines share best practices where relevant.
  • We are a global initiative and building for the long term.

Introduction to Bettercoal

What is the purpose of the Bettercoal initiative?

Bettercoal is a global, not for profit initiative that has been established by a group of major coal buyers to promote the continuous improvement of corporate responsibility in the coal supply chain, with an initial focus on the mines themselves.

Who is involved?

Bettercoal is a global initiative. It was established by a group of major players in the European energy market, including DONG Energy, EDF, Enel, E.ON, GDF SUEZ, RWE and Vattenfall. Since then, Fortum, Gas Natural Fenosa, Drax Power (UK) and EDP (Portugal) and Iberdrola (Spain) have also joined.

We also have Associate members such as BoZ which represents 5 Dutch ports and bulk handling companies in The Netherlands EMO and OBA.

We invite national and regional utilities, steel and cement manufacturers and any other relevant organisations involved in the coal supply-chain, to contact us regarding membership.

Why is Bettercoal needed?

There are significant ethical, social and environmental risks and impacts associated with coal mining. Whilst there have long been standards related to the mining industry in general, there is currently no agreed ethical, social and environmental standards for coal mining per se. It is clear that performance varies significantly across the world and there are some intrinsic conditions coal users expect of suppliers in terms of on-the-ground performance.

We believe that Bettercoal can play an important role in setting global expectations for what responsible coal mining looks like, and that it will help to hold mining companies accountable to such standards. It is important to bear in mind the diversity of the coal mining industry as well as the variance in national and international legal frameworks regulating the industry.

We believe that there is a growing need for greater assurance that the coal supply chain takes due consideration of general good ethical, social and environmental practices in their activities. Global coal production is projected to continue to increase in the coming years, including in parts of the world where coal sourcing has not taken place to date.

We believe that by working together, and engaging with key stakeholders including mining companies and civil society representatives, Bettercoal can help achieve greater improvements than individual companies could alone.

What will Bettercoal actually do?

The initiative has been established to do a number of things:

  • Engage with stakeholders and mining companies to develop the Bettercoal Code and guidance for what responsible coal mining looks like.  This activity was completed in mid-2013 – and the Code has been adopted.
  • Work to encourage mining companies and operators to implement the Bettercoal Code and Bettercoal tools in order to improve good practices to protect workers, local communities and the environment from the potential negative impact of coal mining. Follow-up of progress and reports of this will be part of the continuous improvement objective.
  • Ask coal mining companies to perform self-assessments and accept independent site-assessments by 3rd party assessors at the mine level. Assessors will have appropriate experience in the mining industry and are approved by Bettercoal. Members of Bettercoal will have access to assessment results through the Bettercoal database and a specific process for access to results has been established. We will report publicly on the overall performance of mines assessed on a country-by-country basis and the progress of the initiative as a whole.
  • Bettercoal members will incorporate the results of the assessments into their due diligence processes and as a result be able to make better informed coal purchasing decisions.

Which mines will you be focussing on?

Site assessments will be carried out on an ongoing basis over the lifetime of the initiative with specific mines identified through an objective risk assessment carried out by the Bettercoal Secretariat and agreed for assessment on an annual basis. In principle, Bettercoal will cover all mines supplying coal to members of the initiative. In practice, we expect that Bettercoal will focus its resources on exporting mines that are likely to face challenges living up to the Bettercoal Code and that are of most importance to members.

What about mines that only produce coal for domestic use?
(84% of global coal production is consumed locally)

The current members of Bettercoal are all major users of coal that is predominantly imported from international mines therefore we’re naturally focussing on those specific suppliers at the outset. However the Bettercoal Code, tools, and experiences that come out of the initiative are open source for the benefit of stakeholders across the world.  Our focus will shift as we recruit Members from different regions with different supply characteristics.

What are the success criteria for Bettercoal?

The ultimate success criterion is that Bettercoal has a measurable impact on conditions on the ground; however this is clearly a longer-term objective. Our achievements to date include undertaking a global consultation, producing the Bettercoal Code and developing the assessment toolkit. Our assessment programme is underway. These and future experiences are open source for the benefit of stakeholders across the world.

The companies behind Bettercoal only account for a small share of the world’s
coal usage. Is this really enough to influence coal suppliers?

We believe that coal users and suppliers have a shared interest in working for continuous improvements, particularly with respect to mining operations. We also expect that other major coal users will join Bettercoal, which would help to further establish the initiative.

How will Bettercoal accredit Assessors (audit companies) and why do you think
they will be independent? After all you select them.

Assessing bodies are asked to supply full information on their experiences in mining, coal mining and to demonstrate they have the competence and capability to conduct assessments against the Bettercoal Code.  They will also demonstrate in which regions / countries they have prior experience.  They will also need to demonstrate their qualification to assess against, for example the IFC Performance Standards and ISO Standards
After receiving this information Bettercoal has a screening process with which assessing bodies (audit companies) are qualified (or not).

Which accredited Assessors have been selected?

How does the site-assessment process work in practice?

The end-to-end process takes several months.  It involves:

  • Engaging the supplier / mine to ensure full understanding of the Bettercoal initiative.
  • Selecting the appropriate competent audit company that has relevant experience with the type of mine and context within which the mines operates.
  • A period of engagement between the auditor and the mine to determine the scope of the audit, required stakeholder interviews, exchange of key documentation, planning for the visit.
  • Review of the mine’s self-assessment to help prepare for the assessment.
  • Site visit, report writing, comment on the report by the mine and the finalisation of the report.

Bettercoal has developed detailed procedures for both mine and auditor to follow.

Will the assessment results be made public?

No. This is not common practice in such supply chain initiatives. The assessment reports will be available for Bettercoal and the Members to review.  The Civil Society Panel will be able to review Highlights reports from each assessment so that they can help Bettercoal review the assessment process and advise where solutions may be required to bring improvements on the ground. Progress information will also be reported on our website and Annual Report.

When will you review the content of the Bettercoal Code & Assessment toolkit?

We have consulted our Stakeholder Panels on this and they recommend within 5 years of adoption.  Bettercoal will be in a position to understand how other similar standards setting organisations have undertaken reviews, what changes have been made so as to simplify the process.

What are Bettercoal’s targets in 2015-16 and for the next 5 years?

Bettercoal’s main priority in 2015 is the assessment of mines through self- and site assessments.

  • We have a target of completing 20 self-assessments in 2015.
  • We have a target of completing 4 site assessments in 2015.
  • Our engagement with mines and the resulting self-assessments will help us prioritise mines for site assessment in 2015 and beyond.
  • We are also supporting Members to implement Bettercoal is their coal supply due diligence.
  • We continue with outreach to recruit new Members into Bettercoal.
  • Operationalise the Stakeholder Panels so that they will be able to give strategic guidance to Bettercoal and the Bettercoal Board as well as review Bettercoal assessment process.
  • First Bettercoal Public Report in 2015

What is the key challenge in implementing Bettercoal?

The Bettercoal process is still recent for both coal buyers and coal suppliers.  For many of the coal buyers this is an added level of due diligence that is required as part of their coal purchasing decisions.  For coal suppliers, who may consider that they operate to high ethical, social and environmental standards and are already audited for compliance, the assessment process may feel like an added burden.  Bettercoal is working with both buyers and suppliers as the initiative can bring efficiencies for both parties through shared assessments.

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Funding and Membership

How is Bettercoal being funded? What are the costs involved?

Operating costs are funded by membership contributions and Bettercoal currently operates on a budget of approximately Euro 850,000.  We produce audited annual accounts in compliance with our legal status as a UK registered company limited by guarantee.

Couldn’t this money be better spent on tackling climate change and developing
cleaner technologies like renewables?

Climate change is clearly an important issue to address but it’s not a question of ‘either/or’. Coal will remain an important part of our energy mix in the short to medium-term and while it continues to be widely used, it is important that we work to ensure that coal is sourced in the most socially and environmentally responsible way. 

Who is eligible to join Bettercoal? Is it only a European utility initiative?

Bettercoal is a private sector initiative whose current membership currently consists of European-headquartered companies, but we aim to expand globally. There are two types of members.

Regular members: major coal users, including (but not limited to) energy utilities and industrial users such as steel makers and cement manufacturers from all around the world.

Associate members: companies and incorporated organizations from all around the world who are involved in the coal supply chain as well as their trade associations and other associations representing such business, e.g. coal consumers, traders, logistics providers, and road transportation firms.

What’s in it for members?

Fundamentally membership of Bettercoal is about being part of an initiative that we hope will make a real difference to responsible coal sourcing in terms of improving conditions on the ground for workers, communities and the environment.

Bettercoal will provide members with the necessary information to make informed buying decisions that take into account the ethical, social and environmental performance of coal mines. The Bettercoal self- and site-assessments will contribute towards this objective. Further, collaboration on site-assessments are expected to result in cost savings for coal users and coal mining operators as they will reduce the need to run repeat audits for individual buyers.

What’s in it for suppliers?

Bettercoal creates a single set of ethical, social and environmental expectations for performance indicators requested by major coal buyers. It also brings a commitment from major coal buyers to rely on assessments performed by Bettercoal, thus effectively reducing the number of self and site assessment requests from buyers, reducing costs and inefficiencies.

Bettercoal provides access to support resources such as guidelines, tools and training for mines to continuously improve their sustainability performance, as well as the opportunity to be part of an initiative that seeks to create real on the ground improvements.

Isn’t this anti-competitive? How do you deal with anti-trust compliance?

Bettercoal is committed to complying with all relevant antitrust and competition laws and regulations and, to that end, has adopted an Anti-trust Policy Statement, compliance with which is a condition of continued Bettercoal membership.

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Governance & Stakeholder Engagement

What is your Governance structure?

The Bettercoal Board, comprising Directors elected from member companies, is responsible for the oversight of the initiative.  The Board delegates certain responsibilities to the Executive Director, who oversees the day-to-day management of the company and the Secretariat itself.

How do you ensure accountability, reporting and demonstrate progress in
your efforts?

Bettercoal will report publicly on its progress and that of its members, as well as Members themselves talking about how they are implementing Bettercoal in their own coal purchasing decisions.

Why isn’t Bettercoal a multi-stakeholder initiative like the FSC?

We believe that this type of initiative will make it easier to gain critical mass in the global coal market.

Bettercoal is committed to engaging stakeholders formally and informally through various mechanisms, including the independent Stakeholder Panels who have third-party representation and provide advice to the Board of Directors (BoD) on a range of issues, and who the BoD must consult on certain critical issues.

Nonetheless, Bettercoal will follow closely the development of other multi-stakeholder initiatives in related sectors.

How is Bettercoal ensuring that the voice of civil society and other stakeholders
is taken into account?

We are committed to ongoing engagement with civil society and other stakeholders to ensure the effectiveness of Bettercoal. This already happens in practice.
Stakeholders have been able to leverage influence in several ways.

  • During the development phase of the initiative, Bettercoal worked with an independent Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) made up of civil society and supplier representatives, who worked with Bettercoal (Executive Director, Chairman, Members) and influenced the Board of Directors on a variety of topics.  Specifically, the SAG provided expert guidance regarding the development of the Code, the Assessment toolkit, the global consultation and on the overall development of the initiative.
  • Bettercoal has formal, expert Stakeholder Panels (SPs), which not only guide Bettercoal, but also review implementation and support on-the-ground solutions in the coal producing countries.  The Board of Directors will have to consult the SPs on all critical matters pertaining to Bettercoal.
  • The Civil Society Panel includes: 
    Flora & Fauna International (Biodiversity & Ecosystems);Cordaid (Social performance / community development); Assheton Carter (Standards, supply chain initiative experience); Alexandra Guaqueta (UNGP Business & HR, Colombia); Danish Institute of Human Rights
  • The Supplier Panel includes: 
    Glencore, Rio Tinto, Alpha Natural Resources and Anglo American.  Bettercoal is in discussion with other suppliers who have been invited to join this group.
  • We also operate a number of multi-stakeholder working groups on an ongoing basis tasked with developing good practices for coal mining.

How was the Bettercoal Code consultation process run? 

The consultation was run through a dedicated consultation website where interested parties could view the draft code, make comments and also view comments made by others.  We also ran stakeholder meetings and workshops in S Africa, Colombia, Indonesia and Russia, had bilateral meetings submissions directly to the Bettercoal Secretariat.

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The impact of Bettercoal

What impact will Bettercoal have?

Through collaborative action Bettercoal can drive change.  This will happen through:

  • Engagement of suppliers by the buyers: Following the adoption of the Code Members have been engaging their suppliers on Bettercoal to communicate their expectation that suppliers co-operate with Bettercoal assessments.
  • Improvement at the mine:  Our initial focus is improving ethical, social and environmental performance at the mines themselves.  We will achieve this by having third-party auditors performing on-the-ground assessments at the mines against the Bettercoal Code. For this we have developed Assessment Guidelines, in conjunction with our Stakeholder Advisory Group,  which detail specific indicators that are required for alignment with the Code (e.g. documentary evidence, interviews with employees / communities, unions that should be conducted) together with practical guidance for assessors / suppliers on how to implement the assessment.  A Continuous Improvement Program will be developed with the mine based on the findings of the assessment.  This will mean that the Members of Bettercoal (coal buyers) will not only be able to see the result of the Assessment, but also will be able to track the mines progress against the Improvement Plan.  This in itself will bring improved performance at the mine over time.
  • Robust, objective information for coal buyers:  Members of Bettercoal, coal buyers, will have access to the results of mine self-assessments and mine assessments/continuous improvement plans.  They are obliged to engage their suppliers to provide this information and also to use this information in their coal purchasing decisions.  These of course must be individual decisions made by the coal buying companies, in line with Antitrust requirements
  • Publicly available information: The Code and Assessment toolkit will be available to others to implement in their businesses.
  • Through collaboration with other stakeholders: Bettercoal will be able to analyse data from mine assessments and as appropriate work with other stakeholders to facilitate change.

What difference will this initiative make for mine workers in
developing/producer nations?

We believe that by working closely with suppliers, coal buyers can encourage and help impulse improvement initiatives. Our aim is for Bettercoal to be established as a strong force in creating real improvements on the ground.

At the end of the day, aren't good business ethics just a 'nice to have' compared
to price?

Price is clearly important but just as our customers demand value for money they also demand strong business ethics as part of the price they pay.

What sanctions will be applied to coal suppliers not willing to cooperate with
Bettercoal?

Anti-trust rules make it illegal for members to discuss sanctions against individual suppliers, however we believe that it’s in everyone’s interests to understand and improve conditions around coal mines so we hope that this won’t be an issue. It’s also worth mentioning that collaboration on site-assessments will ultimately result in cost savings for both coal users and coal mining operators who will avoid having to incur costs of duplicative audits.

Will coal suppliers participating in Bettercoal be favoured by members as
suppliers?

Each of the members of Bettercoal will determine how to respond to the performance of individual suppliers according to their own internal processes. All members will be able to see how suppliers perform against the Bettercoal Code as well as whether or not they have accepted to undertake a 3rd party site assessment. This information will be taken into account when members make sourcing decisions.

What will happen if a mine doesn’t pass the Bettercoal Code?
How will members handle the results of audits – will they stop doing
business with certain coal mines?

The Bettercoal Code is not a pass or fail standard – it’s about providing mines with a framework of key principles and standards on which mines can seek to continuously improve. How individual member companies choose to act as a result of any audits is entirely at their discretion.

So what will happen if mines don’t make improvements?
Will you stop working with them?

Bettercoal is committed to working with mines to help them make improvements that will protect workers, the environment and local communities from the impact of coal mining. Where issues are raised via either the self-assessments or third party assessments we hope to support mines with remediation of unsatisfactory performance and practices, e.g. through provision of advisory and training services.

It is not the aim of Bettercoal to stop any member company working with a mine. That decision lies with each member company.

How closely will Bettercoal cooperate with the coal mines?

The success of Bettercoal is largely influenced by its ability to develop constructive relationships with the mining industry to continuously improve its business practice so we expect to work closely with the mining companies. We already have a number of representatives from the mining industry involved through our Stakeholder Panels that will be advising the Board of Directors.

What will you do to mitigate the chance that coal suppliers will just choose
other customers? What will you do if this initiative means that you can't get
the necessary supply of coal?

Clearly we can’t tell mines who to sell their coal to, just as we can’t tell people where to buy their coal from. The success of Bettercoal is largely influenced by its ability to develop constructive relationships with the mining industry, recognising that it is in everyone’s interest to drive forward continuous improvements in coal mining.

Did Bettercoal integrate any learnings from the Dutch Coal Dialogue process?

Bettercoal fully reviewed DCD materials and seeks to include this in field work, something that the DCD was not able to do owing to the initiative coming to a close in 2012.

When will Bettercoal report publicly?

Bettercoal will produce its first Public report in Q2 2015.

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Bettercoal Code

The Bettercoal Code sets out the ethical, social and environmental principles and provisions that members of Bettercoal expect organizations producing coal in their supply chain to align with.

Join Bettercoal

By joining Bettercoal, your company will take part in a global effort to make a real, on-the-ground difference for workers, communities, local companies and the environment impacted by coal mining. 

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