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 is launching and beta testing its certification system in 2018 and early 2019. Mine sites that participate in this Launch phase may use the IRMA Self Assessment Tool (available late July 2018), may list their efforts on the IRMA Responsible Mining Map, and, later in 2018, be indepenently audited against the requirements of the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining receiving an independently-verified score on some or all chapters. Mines may share summaries of these reviews with purchasers, investors, local community stakeholders, and others interested.
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 will recognize mines that meet a core threshold of the best practices outlined in the IRMA Standard. We expect that both full Certification and Candidate status will offer opportunity for shared recognition by other colleague standard systems (more on this in late 2018). 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, and to pass this value down through the supply chain where mined materials are made into the products we each use every day.

Mine sites who participate in IRMA allow their purchasers, businesses that purchase mined materials for use in their products, the benefit of increased information and confidence 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? IRMA seeks to collaborate with other standard system colleagues for full supply chain solutions and added-value for all stakeholders. IRMA is an important piece in puzzle of how this value can be connected in that it is the only global standard which covers all mined materials (except energy fuels) coming from large-scale mines, applies to mines all over the world, is auditable at the mine site level, measures "responsible practices" comprehensively across social, environmental and corporate responsibility broadly, uses independent third party auditors for credible verification of achievement, is governed equitably across diverse stakeholders, and it defines both "best practices" as well as a way to show achievement (and improvement) at any level of practice. It is recognized as meeting these unique attributes by leading companies as well as civil society organizations.

Having described why IRMA is important above, it's just as important to recognize our colleague Standard systems who together with IRMA can offer greater value for mining companies making the effort to improve social and environmental performance by offering recognition in more than one system and supply chain connections that increase confidence for investors and purchasers seeking responsible sourcing. These colleagues include (but are not limited to) ResponsibleSteel, Mining Association of Canada's Toward Sustainable Mining program, Alliance for Responsible Mining, Responsible Jewellry Association, Responsible Business Alliance, Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council and others.

 

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.

In 2018-19, IRMA is transitioning from the Steering Committee structure to the longer term Board of Directors structure of a nongovernment organization (NGO). Visit our page on governance to learn more.
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 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. However these companies should be recognized for their notable investment of time and good faith in working within a multistakeholder leadership structure and seeking shared solutions that work for diverse stakeholders.
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 IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining v.1.0 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 by diverse stakeholders 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.

The IRMA Standard consists of 26 chapters that address business integrity; labor, social and environmental responsibility; closure and reclamation; and mine management systems. The Standard for Responsible Mining is not all original material. Wherever possible it draws on existing best practices agreed upon by diverse stakeholders. Thus it draws heavily from the important work of the United Nations on human rights, OECD due diligence, International Cyanide Management Code, International Finance Corporation, and other existing guidelines which many mines already follow and we hope more soon will. 
How was the IRMA Standard developed? IRMA has just released the Standard for Responsible Mining v.1.0 which can now be used by mines globally to engage in the program and gain recognition for their efforts in environmental and social responsibility. As background, in July 2014 a first draft of the standard was released for public review and comments. Since that time IRMA received more than 1,400 points of comment from more than 100 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.
During IRMA's Launch Phase 2018-19 we know that the increasing number of mines and other stakeholders using and reviewing metrics in the Standard will help identify gaps, metrics that need to be clarified or changed, and further conversation across stakeholder sectors. We expect this will result in a revision of the Standard in mid-2019, before full Certification of achievement is offered for mines starting in late 2019. After that, 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 seeking full compliance with the ISEAL Alliance Standard-Setting Code of Good Practice.

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 IRMA process, and how you can get involved, see Ways to Engage.
How does IRMA define best practices? In the context of the drafting of the IRMA Standard, this has been interpreted to mean that the Standard should consist of a set of auditable requirements that reflects agreement of the multi-stakeholder IRMA process on the most effective way to achieve the agreed social and environmental objectives of each chapter of the IRMA standard, given the current state of knowledge. The IRMA Standard is intended to specify levels of performance such that a mine that is operating according to best practice could reasonably be expected to conform with all the specified requirements of every chapter.
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, labeling and increased assurance of responsible sourcing for companies purchasing mined materials for the products they make. For this reason, we are in communication with, and seeking to partner with, Alliance for Responsible Mining (covering artisanal scale mining), ResponsibleSteel, Mining Association of Canada, Responsible Jewellery Council, Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, Responsible Business Alliance, US Green Building Council, Aluminium Stewardship Initiative and others. We have begun a project to identify and 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 allows mine sites at all levels of performance to demonstrate continuing improvement over time.

While the vast majority of certification requirements are at the mine-site level, there are some requirements in the IRMA Standard that 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 may use the IRMA program for certification and other levels of recogntion including Candidate status or demonstrate improvement in practices over time. This includes a wide diversity of mined materials including platinum, gold, silver, copper, tin, aluminum, aggregates, cobalt, nickel and many others.

At the present time, mining operations that produce fuels for energy generation (e.g., thermal coal, uranium, tar sands), and artisanal mining operations are not included in the IRMA certification scheme. IRMA collaborates with colleague standard systems like Equitable Origin, BetterCoal, and Alliance for Responsible Mining that offer programs where IRMA does not.
Will IRMA certify new or existing mines? IRMA currently offers programs serving existing mines -- both those that are new and those which have long been in operation. In some cases there are different requirements for new mines and long-existing "legacy" operations. This is because some requirements in the IRMA standard may not be achieved by mines long in operation where they cannot "turn back the clock" to a pre-mining time (for example Free, Prior and Informed Consent should occur on indigenous lands before a mine is developed, and baseline biological studies should also be done before a mine is constructed, but this may not have happened at mines constructed decades ago). For these existing mines, the Standard has some specific provisions that require a mine site to demonstrate that it meets the intent of a given section in the Standard, even though a company cannot go back in time.

Proposed mines that have not yet begun operation are not able to secure IRMA Certification (as a mine must be operating in order to be measured for performance against the requirements of the Standard for Responsible Mining). However, in 2019 IRMA is looking to develop an "IRMA Ready" Standard that describes best practices in exploration and development, for the earliest phases of mine development, so that companies doing this work may pass the value of pursuing best practices at this critical phase to the next phase (and offer increased confidence and assurance of best practices to other companies who may purchase the operation for development). 
Which mines has IRMA certified? None. IRMA has just released the Standard for Responsible Mining v.1.0 in June 2018. Certification will not take place until late 2019. However, prior to that time leading mining companies may describe their company commitment to responsible practices on the Responsible Mining Map. Starting in late July 2018, mine sites may register to use the Self-Assessment Tool and list their engagement this way on the Map. In late 2018, mines may also use IRMA-approved auditors to receive an independent auditor-approved score of their performance which mines may, if they choose, share with interested purchasers, investors, local communities, and/or civil society stakeholders.
How will certification work? For full Certification mine sites will have to meet all major 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, or is not operating in a conflict-affected area would not have to be audited on the chapters specifically on cyanide use or conflict).

In addition to full Certification, IRMA will offer "Candidate" recognition for mines meeting a core threshold of entry-level requirements. These achievement levels are likely to be cross-recognized by other standard systems with whom we are currently exploring alignment and shared recognition for our participants engaged in more than one program. IRMA will also offer the ability for mines to use IRMA-approved auditors for chapter-by-chapter scoring of achievemnt. This will allow mines a number of relevant options including demonstrating performance on particular issues of interest to stakeholders, showing improvement over time, showing achievement progress between the Candidate and full Certification levels and otherwise.

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. 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.

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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 major requirements in the Standard, its certification may be revoked. However, in most cases, before losing certification mines will be given an opportunity to correct issues which are minor or clearly temporary in nature.

 

Next Steps in the IRMA Process

What are the next steps? Here is a timeline for the 2018-19 Launch Phase of learning in IRMA.
During this time IRMA is evaluating systems, addressing challenges and gaps, seeking to improve metrics in the Standard for Responsible Mining and associated value in real time, and then expand in 2019 and beyond.
All stakeholders can put themselves on the Responsible Mining Map now. Interested mines are invited begin using the IRMA Self-Assessment tool starting late July 2018. In late 2019, IRMA-approved auditors will be available for independent review, offering mines the chance to distinguish themselves through auditor-verified scoring of achievement.

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.
How can I get involved? All interested individuals are invited to participate in the IRMA's programs. Your participation is especially important during our Launch Phase 2018-19 as we seek to test metrics in the Standard for Resonsible Mining, increase connections between partictipating mines and leading purchasers pursuing responsible sourcing, and ensuring accountability to all. Please visit our Ways to Engage page for updates.  If you would like to receive information and updates stay connected by subscribing to IRMA updates or by sending a message to info@responsiblemining.net.

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