Frequently Asked Questions about the IRMA process

To provide added clarification on IRMA we have developed answers to a number of frequently asked questions. If you have any additional questions for IRMA, please submit them to info@responsiblemining.net.

History and Purpose of IRMA

IRMA Governance and Membership

IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining

IRMA Certification

Next Steps in the IRMA Process

 

History and Purpose of IRMA

What is the history of IRMA? The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) was founded in 2006 by a diverse collection of stakeholders, including: non-government environment and social justice groups (NGOs); organized labor unions; mining-affected communities; mining companies; and “downstream users” of minerals and metals (companies who purchase mined materials to make into other products, e.g. jewelry companies).
What is the purpose of IRMA? The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) is a multi-sector collaboration that is establishing a best-practice standard and third-party, independent assurance system intended to improve the social and environmental performance of industrial mining operations. IRMA certification will be a tool for companies, communities and civil society to ensure that mining is free from associations with harmful labor practices, human rights abuses, environmental degradation or other unnecessary negative impacts.

IRMA expects to launch and begin beta testing its certification system in 2018. Mine sites that participate in this Launch phase may self assess or be indepenently audited against the requirements of the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining.
Why is IRMA important? Mining is a complex and intensive process that causes environmental and social change no matter where it occurs. IRMA’s vision is a mining industry that respects human rights and the aspirations of affected communities; provides safe, healthy and respectful workplaces; avoids or minimizes harm to the environment and leaves positive legacies. IRMA seeks to promote this vision by emulating for industrial-scale mining what has been done with independent third-party certification schemes in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

IRMA is a voluntary program that recognizes different levels of social and environmental performance. IRMA certification will offer benefits to mine sites at the global level achieving the highest levels of performance in protecting environmental and social values. In addition, through a Candidate Status level, IRMA seeks to acknowledge mines that meet a core threshold of the best practices outlined in the IRMA Standard. IRMA is also develop a scoring tool that will allow mines at any level of performance to benchmark their practices and possibly demonstrate continuing improvement over time.

Consumers are aware of some of the bad actors/practices in this industry and are asking for ways to differentiate and purchase from those who will commit to positive performance. Whether the consumer is purchasing a wedding ring, a computer, a new car or in the midst of a green-building project, they want to know that the mined materials that go into their products are responsibly sourced. IRMA seeks to provide a globally recognized label at the mine site level acknowledging best practice achievement.

Mine sites who participate in IRMA also allow their purchasers, businesses that purchase mined materials for use in their products, to have information on the practices of the companies from whom they source.

IRMA will continue to review, evaluate and update its Standard to reflect changing understandings of what is “best practice” to protect social and environmental values impacted by mining. We believe that by creating a multi-stakeholder agreement on how to define best practices for this industry, and a way to certify/communicate that performance, we will not only reward the leaders in the industry but also set a bar of expectation that encourages others to improve and hopefully to strive to achieve more environmentally and socially responsible practice.
How is IRMA different from other initiatives? Other organizations and initiatives have developed guidance for different elements of responsible mining. But no standard has been developed that specifies best practice performance requirements that are recognized by leading companies as well as civil society organizations; that are applicable to all kinds of industrial mining, worldwide; and that are auditable at the mine site level.

The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance aims to fill that void by: following a multi-stakeholder governance model; using dialogue to promote the development of a best practice Standard that covers a wide range of issues and is acceptable to a wide range of stakeholders; adopting an independent, third-party verification system to determine if a mine site has met the requirements in the Standard.

 

IRMA Governance and Membership

What is IRMA's governance structure? IRMA is governed by a Steering Committee, which is made up of two representatives from five different stakeholder sectors: mining companies; non-governmental organizations; downstream users; labor; and affected communities. The Steering Committee can also select up to three people to serve as at-large members.

The IRMA Steering Committee is responsible for defining and overseeing the development of IRMA, including the publishing of the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining. The development of the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining is being done in consultation with other stakeholders and aspires to comply with the ISEAL Code of Good Practice for Setting Social and Environmental Standards.

Read more about roles and responsibilities of the IRMA Steering Committee in the IRMA Interim Governance Rules and Procedures document.
How does IRMA’s Steering Committee make decisions? IRMA’s founding Principles of Engagement recognize that members do not always see eye to eye, but that members are "committed to dialogue despite these disagreements or differences of opinion." The IRMA Steering Committee makes decisions through a balanced decision-making process in which support is required from all five IRMA stakeholder sectors.

Read more about the decision-making process in the IRMA Interim Governance Rules and Procedures document.
Are mining sector members of the IRMA Steering Committee certified by IRMA today? No. Current IRMA members are simply committed to a dialogue with stakeholders from other sectors for the purpose of creating a certification program of this type. In fact, the mining sector members will never be certified as responsible by IRMA at the company-level. Only individual mine sites can be certified, not companies.
Are the participating NGOs, trade unions and community members endorsing the mining companies? No. NGO, trade union and community members, like other sector participants, are involved in IRMA because they are committed to IRMA’s mission of establishing a best practice standard that will improve the environmental and social performance of mining operations -- so that impacts are minimized and more benefits are experienced by workers and people living in mining-affected communities. IRMA's NGO, trade union and community participants will never be expected to endorse a particular mining company.
How is IRMA funded? IRMA is funded through financial contributions of its private sector participants, with grants from philanthropic foundations, and also through in-kind contributions from its civil society (nonprofit) participants. IRMA gratefully accepts expertise and other contributions (e.g. contacts, outreach, event hosting) from civil society groups, as well financial contributions through a US tax-deductible structure.

For more information on how to contribute to IRMA, please contact IRMA Coordinator Aimee Boulanger at: aboulanger@responsiblemining.net.

 

The IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining

What is the IRMA Standard? The draft IRMA Standard outlines a set of auditable requirements that must be met in order for a mine site to achieve IRMA certification. The requirements are based on best practices that have been agreed to through the IRMA Standard development and stakeholder feedback processes. In addition to full certification, IRMA will also offer a "Candidate" status to mine sites which meet a core threshold of requirements, and a scoring-tool for mines at all levels of performance to demonstrate continuing improvement in social and environmental responsibility.

At the present time, the draft IRMA Standard consists of 27 chapters that address business integrity; labor, social and environmental responsibility; closure and reclamation; and mine management systems.
How was the IRMA Standard developed?

IRMA is still in the process of developing its Standard for Responsible Mining. In July 2014 a first draft was released for public review and comments. Since that time IRMA received more than 1,400 points of comment from more than 70 different individuals and organizations, including industry and technical experts. Where there have been issues of contention across stakeholder groups, IRMA has hosted work sessions to seek resolution. In addition, in October 2015 and March 2016 IRMA conducted two field tests to "ground truth" the draft Standard through simulated mine audits in the United States and Zimbabwe. Auditors hired by IRMA reviewed company documentation, made first-hand observations at the mine site, and conducted interviews with company representatives and other stakeholders to verify the requirements in the Standard are clear, can be met, and are measurable.

In April 2016 IRMA released a second draft Standard for public review and comment. As with the first release, IRMA underwent a process of stakeholder engagement and consultation. Comments received during stakeholder consultation processes have helped to influence further revisions to the Standard. In July 2017 IRMA released a new draft chapter addressing interactions with artisanal and small-scale mining for public comment. A final version of the Standard is planned for late 2017. The Standard will be revised and updated regularly, at least every three to five years, to reflect new knowledge and better understandings of best practices. Each review will be undertaken through a public process as described in the IRMA Standard Development Procedure.

For a detailed explanation of how IRMA is developing its Standard, visit our Standard Development Process page.

To find out about the next steps in the Standard development process, and how you can get involved, see Next Steps.

How does IRMA define best practices? In the draft IRMA standard, best practices is defined as: “practices that are widely recognized by interested stakeholders as being the most effective way to achieve agreed goals, given the current state of knowledge.”
Will IRMA have a chain of custody standard? At this time, IRMA is not developing a chain of custody standard.  The goal is for the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining to be compatible with other sustainability standards initiatives for the extractives sector that help provide the chain of custody or other sourcing/traceability appropriate for different types of downstream user businesses (electronics, jewelry, building materials, automotive, etc.). Through this we hope to provide complete solutions for mineral certification, traceability and labeling. In April 2016 we initiated a project to identify and seek to resolve barriers between purchasers of mined materials and mine sites participating in the IRMA program. If you are a Downstream Purchaser of mined materials and would like to engage in this conversation, where IRMA will explore how best IRMA can serve purchasers, we welcome your participation. Please contact IRMA Coordinator Aimee Boulanger at aboulanger@responsiblemining.net.

 

IRMA Certification

What will IRMA certify? IRMA will certify mine sites that meet best practice standards, and will not certify not mining companies. IRMA will also offer a "Candidate" status to mine sites that meet a core threshold of requirements, and also a scoring tool that will allow mine sites at all levels of performance to demonstrate continuning improvement over time.

While the vast majority of certification requirements are at the mine-site level, there will be some requirements in the IRMA Standard that will apply at the company level (e.g. issues of revenue transparency and other corporate-level policies).
What types of mining operations are and are not included in IRMA certification? Most types of large-scale mining operations will be eligible for IRMA certification (e.g., gold, silver, copper, tin, aluminum, aggregates, etc.).

At the present time, mining operations that produce fuels for energy generation (e.g., coal, uranium, tar sands), and artisanal mining operations are not included in the IRMA certification scheme.
Will IRMA certify new or existing mines? Both. But in some cases there will be different requirements for new mines and existing operations. This is because there are some requirements in the IRMA standard that cannot be met at existing operations (for example Free, Prior and Informed Consent should occur before a mine is developed). For operations that are already existing when the IRMA Standard goes into effect, the Standard will have some specific provisions that will require a company to demonstrate that it meets the intent of the Standard, even though a company cannot go back in time and do something that needed to be done prior to the mine’s construction.
Which mines has IRMA certified? None. IRMA is still developing its Standard for Responsible Mining. Certification will not take place until the Standard has been finalized.
How will certification work? The IRMA Steering Committee is still finalizing this process, but the general steps are that:

Mine sites will have to meet all of the requirements in the IRMA Standard that apply to the type of mining at that site (e.g., a company that does not use cyanide in its processing would not have to follow the chapter specifically on cyanide use and management).

Certificates will be issued by third-party certification bodies whose auditors are trained by IRMA. To determine whether or not a mine site has met the IRMA requirements, certification bodies will carry out audits of the mining operation. The audit will involve on-site visits, as well as consultations with the mining company employees, workers, union representatives, affected community members and other stakeholders. The certification body will publish a summary of its findings.

Certificates will be issued for a certain period of time, still to be determined. Following this period, a mine may apply for renewed certification. During these subsequent certification periods, companies will be expected to make changes and upgrades as required by any updates to the IRMA Standard.

For more information, see: How was the IRMA Standard developed?
Who will IRMA use to certify mines? As mentioned in How will certification work? certificates will be issued by third-party certification bodies whose auditors are trained by IRMA. Auditors found to be competent in the technical aspects of the IRMA standard may become registered with IRMA. Certification bodies will be monitored and assessed by a separate accreditation body to ensure that they are carrying out certification in a competent manner. The accreditation body will publish a summary of its review of the various IRMA certification bodies.
Will stakeholders such as community members or workers be able to provide input into the certification process? Yes, absolutely. Mines that are going to be audited will be advertised on the IRMA web site, and there will be the opportunity for all stakeholders, including community members, labor, civil society, downstream users and mining companies to provide input and be consulted by auditors.
What if stakeholders disagree with IRMA’s decision to certify a mine site? IRMA is in the process of developing a grievance mechanism that will provide stakeholders with an opportunity to voice their concerns about the certification process and outcome, or any other issues related to IRMA.
Industrial-scale mining is associated with many destructive practices and involves extracting non-renewable resources.

How can IRMA claim that it is certifying “sustainable” practices?
IRMA is working toward more responsible mining. We don’t use the word “sustainable”. All IRMA Steering Committee Members, while coming from very different areas of interest, together acknowledge that industrial-scale mining is a reality around the world today and that impacted communities and workers could greatly benefit from a set of “best practice” standards that create incentives for leaders in the mining industry to be recognized on a global level for such performance.

Furthermore, consumers are aware of some of the bad actors/practices in this industry and are asking for ways to differentiate and purchase from those who will commit to positive performance. Whether the consumer is purchasing a wedding ring, a computer, a new car or in the midst of a green-building project, they want to know that the mined materials that go into their products are responsibly sourced. IRMA seeks to provide a globally recognized label at the mine site level acknowledging best practice achievement.

This label also allows businesses who purchase mined materials to make into other products (again, computers, jewelry, building projects, automobiles and other items in our daily lives), to have information on the practices of the companies from whom they source.

IRMA will continue to review, evaluate and update its Standard to reflect changing understandings of what is “best practice” to protect social and environmental values impacted by mining. We believe that by creating a multi-stakeholder agreement on how to define best practices for this industry, and a way to certify/communicate that performance, we will not only reward the leaders in the industry but also set a bar of expectation which encourages others in the least to improve and hopefully to strive to achieve more environmentally and socially responsible practice.
Can a mine lose IRMA certification? Yes. If a mine site stops complying with any of the requirements in the Standard, its certification may be revoked.

 

Next Steps in the IRMA Process

What are the next steps?

In 2018, IRMA will offer Launch Phase self assessment and independent verification. During that time IRMA will be evaluating its systems, addressing challenges and gaps, seeking to improve in real time, and then expand in 2019 and beyond. Interested mines are invited to contact IRMA to be among the first assessed.

The Launch Phase will give purchasers a chance to connect with leading mines through their supply chains. Civil society stakeholders — workers, local communities and nonprofit nongovernment organizations — will have increased access to information and communication with mines willing to lead. 
 
In preparation for this Launch Phase, IRMA is working with leading purchasers to review supply chains and remove barriers to efficiently connect with mine sites participating in the IRMA program. IRMA is also developing a verification and auditor training program to support the first certifications and other benchmarking against the Standard for Responsible Mining.

How can I get involved? All interested individuals are invited to participate in the draft IRMA Standard feedback process. Please visit our Stakeholder Feedback page for updates. The comment periods will be advertised on that web page, as well as through various sector networks. If you would like to receive information on upcoming comment periods and other updates on the IRMA process you can stay connected by subscribing to IRMA updates or by sending a message to info@responsiblemining.net.

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