Why is Earthworks in IRMA

August 13, 2014

By Jennifer Krill, Executive Director, Earthworks

Since 1988 Earthworks has stood for clean water, healthy communities, air that’s fit to breathe, and a vibrant strong environment. That’s why we’ve worked so hard to change the mining sector. Large-scale, industrial mines often permanently damage water and ecosystems, abuse the human rights of workers and communities, and harm the health of people who live nearby. 

Ideally, concerns about the ecological and social impacts of mining would lead to changes in national laws and in international norms.  But in practice, laws are slow to change; so while continuing to push for legislative reform we have found an additional way forward. If its final standard passes muster, the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) will independently-certify industrial scale mine sites that have eliminated the worst practices, implemented the best practices, and provided a transparent and independent verification so that consumers can know their purchases of IRMA-certified products are driving improvements in mining practices.

Fortunately, forward-thinking companies that buy metals and minerals, like leaders in the jewelry and electronics industries, share our concerns about the impacts of mining. Just as importantly, we found that the representatives of the mining industry were willing to set aside our differences within IRMA to sit down at the table with impacted communities, Earthworks and other civil society representatives to try to map out a more responsible way of doing business.

Altogether, five sectors form the basis of IRMA: environmental and human rights organizations, labor unions, mining-affected community members, retailers and mining companies. Similar to the Forest Stewardship Council or Fair Trade certification standards, we feel that each sector having a stake in the outcome of IRMA is critical to its success. This is the key difference between IRMA and other self-described ‘independent’ mining standards which are dominated by industry and give impacted communities no role in governance of the standard. Including all stakeholders makes IRMA’s standard more robust, and its process more effective in achieving our goal of reducing the negative impacts from large-scale mining.

The IRMA Steering Committee just released the IRMA draft Standard for Responsible Mining for public input, and it will be open for comments through October 22, 2014. A second round of stakeholder input will follow. We expect a lot of debate through these consultations; even the IRMA Steering Committee after publishing the draft standard is not fully in agreement about the individual pieces. At Earthworks, we feel there are several parts of the standard that must be strengthened, and we believe they will be through the stakeholder process.

Even so, we are incredibly proud of the IRMA effort; for the first time, mining companies, their customers and civil society have collaborated to set a standard for more responsible mining. We invite you to join the effort to make IRMA as strong as it can be.

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