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Our Approach to Cultural Heritage

Safeguarding cultural heritage is demonstrated through various international instruments, laws, and conventions, and is recognised as being of universal importance. At South32, we respect the importance of preserving cultural heritage and seek to work collaboratively with communities, including Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples, to achieve this.



We understand that cultural heritage is the legacy passed down from previous generations to the present. It can be tangible (such as artefacts, natural landscapes, buildings) and intangible (such as language, stories, connectedness, rituals, beliefs, cultural landscapes and customs, traditional knowledge), often continued in living cultures to be passed to future generations. Cultural heritage can be fundamental to collective and self-identity, and its safeguarding is founded in human rights.

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples of the lands, waters and territories on which South32 is located and where we conduct our business around the world.

We respect and acknowledge the unique cultural and spiritual relationships that Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples have to the lands, waters and territories, and we respect their right to enjoy and maintain their traditional knowledge, distinctive spiritual practices and traditional ways of life.

We recognise the interdependence of tangible cultural and natural heritage with intangible cultural heritage. We acknowledge cultural landscapes and understand the important relationships between people and the natural environment.

We respect and utilise regional terms and, where possible, recognise and use the specific names as identified by a group, supporting self-identification.

Image: Veins of our Lands by Beverley Cummins (Queensland, Australia).

Our commitment

Many of our operations and projects intersect areas of cultural significance and we understand the critical role we play in preserving cultural heritage. We believe it is important for cultural heritage and mining to co-exist and we are committed to working with communities and stakeholders, including Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples, to achieve the best possible outcomes wherever our activities have the potential to impact cultural heritage.

We are committed to building strong relationships that enable us to work in partnership with communities, including Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples. We seek to contribute to cultural wellbeing through consultation and responsible management of cultural resources. This commitment, and the long-term nature of our operations, enables us to develop and foster lasting relationships.

Meeting our commitment

Meeting our commitment

The principles that support us to meet our commitment include:

  • We appreciate cultural heritage is living and evolving, connected to the past, present and future;
  • We recognise the role of communities, including Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples, in the maintenance, protection, and re-creation of cultural heritage;
  • We acknowledge the importance of promoting and protecting cultural heritage, so it can be enjoyed by future generations; and
  • We tailor our approach to the individual context relevant to our operations or projects.

Our management approach

Our approach to cultural heritage considers the cultural heritage risks and opportunities associated with our activities, across all phases of the mining lifecycle.

  • We apply the principles and processes of free, prior, and informed consent in seeking to obtain and maintain agreed outcomes with Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples where adverse impacts are likely to occur to cultural heritage.
  • We identify, document, and manage cultural heritage and values, both tangible and intangible, in collaboration with impacted stakeholders.
  • We take an ‘avoidance first’ approach to impacting cultural heritage, and demonstrate how consideration has been given to prevent, mitigate or minimise impacts.
  • We engage appropriate, independent and qualified third-party heritage professionals to identify, document and manage cultural heritage and values, in collaboration with impacted stakeholders where appropriate.
  • We confirm impacted stakeholders have adequate, independent advice and/or representation for decision making on impacts to cultural heritage and provide culturally appropriate grievance mechanisms.
  • We collect, store, and maintain cultural heritage data in a culturally appropriate manner with consideration of security, authorisation and custodianship.
  • We utilise, where practicable, heritage agreements to document the agreed approach to identify, manage and protect cultural heritage.
  • We establish procedures to catalogue, monitor and audit cultural heritage, and develop responses to unauthorised impacts and the identification of new information concerning cultural heritage.
  • We provide South32 employees, contractors and visitors with training that raises awareness of our approach to cultural heritage, commensurate with their position or relationship to South32.
  • We identify relevant stakeholders, in line with Our Approach to Indigenous, Traditional and Tribal Peoples Engagement where appropriate.
  • We identify risks associated with cultural heritage management and develop controls to mitigate them.

What guides us

Our approach to cultural heritage is guided by global standards and initiatives including:

  • International Finance Corporation Performance Standards (specifically Standards 7 and 8);
  • ICMM Mining Principles: 3 – Human Rights, 4 – Risk Management and 9 – Social Performance, and the associated ICMM Position Statement on Indigenous People and Mining;
  • United Nations Sustainable Development Goals - Targets 10.2 and 11.4;
  • United Nations Global Compact Principles;
  • International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples;
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights;
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage;
  • UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage;
  • UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage; and
  • Australia ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) Charter for Places of Cultural Significance (Burra Charter).

Our commitment to cultural heritage is supported by our Board-approved Sustainability Policy and managed through our internal social performance standard, which is supplemented by operational procedures that account for local and regional operating conditions and regulatory requirements.

We comply with local laws, and where applicable law differs from the commitments in this approach, we seek to follow the higher standard. Where there is a conflict between local law and this approach, we will comply with applicable law while seeking to meet our cultural heritage commitments.


Our Board has ultimate responsibility for our company’s governance and strategic direction. Our Sustainability Committee assists the Board in its oversight of our sustainability management, performance, assurance and reporting practises. This includes endorsing our publicly disclosed cultural heritage commitments to the Board for approval, and monitoring the adequacy and effectiveness of our management approach.

Management accountability is assigned to our Chief Legal and External Affairs Officer, with responsibility for implementation within the mandate of External Affairs.

We periodically undertake internal assurance, and independent third-party assurance, where appropriate, to assess compliance with our internal social performance standard, as well as the ICMM Mining Principles and associated Performance Expectations, with a view to continually improving cultural heritage management and performance across our operating footprint.


This approach applies to all Directors, management, employees, contractors and third parties who act on behalf of South32. We endeavour to influence our non-operated joint ventures to support the adoption of standards of conduct consistent with ours, as relevant within the limits of the joint venture arrangements.

Our approach will be reviewed every two years, or more frequently, if necessary, so it remains relevant and appropriate to South32’s cultural heritage activities. The updated global approach was considered by the Board Sustainability Committee, and approved by our Chief Executive Officer in September 2023.