IRMA has not yet begun to certify “responsible” industrial-scale mining operations. Certification will not begin until a final Standard for Responsible Mining has been approved by the IRMA Steering Committee, and an independent third-party assurance system for verifying a mine’s compliance with the Standard has been developed. IRMA expects to begin certifying mines in 2017.
There are three components currently under development with respect to IRMA's certification system. These include:
- Recognition of different levels of performance
- Independent, third-party assurance
- Beta testing the IRMA certification program
During the early years of IRMA development, its leaders were envisioning a strict pass-fail certification system - i.e., only those mine sites meeting all of the requirements in the IRMA Standard would be certified. However, based on input received during the first consultation period for the IRMA Standard, the IRMA Steering Committee is now considering the implementation of a certification system that still rewards leading mines, but that also provides a means to recognize mine sites that have not yet fully implemented all of the IRMA Standard requirements.
At the present time, there are two status levels envisaged for mine sites that may want to participate in the IRMA certification system: Candidate and Certified (these names are placeholders). As the status level increases, a company will enjoy added benefits, such as being able to make various claims about social and environmental performance; increased reputational benefits; opportunities for preferred purchasing status with downstream buyers; more favorable status with lenders and investors, etc.
IRMA certification will only occur for mine sites that demonstrate that they are leaders in best practices, as defined in the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining. Certified mines sites will be expected to meet all of the requirements of the IRMA Standard, however, if minor non-conformances with a certain level of requirements are found during an audit, mine sites will be allowed a limited amount of time to correct the problem(s). Upon certification, these mine sites will be granted a set of benefits including use of the IRMA logo and ability to make certain claims regarding its social and environmental performance.
In addition to the certification process for mines that meet the Standard, IRMA leaders are currently considering a secondary “candidate” (or similar) status for mine sites that meet a core set of threshold requirements. Candidate status could provide a benchmarking tool for mine sites focused on improving their performance (see also the scoring tool in the continuing improvement section below), and/or provide candidate mines with a means to demonstrate that while they have not yet achieved best practice across all issues and chapters of the IRMA Standard, they have demonstrated that they have gone beyond standard industry practice in several key areas. Details regarding the core requirements that must be met, what claims candidates will be allowed to make and other components of candidate status (including whether or not “candidate” is the appropriate term) are under development.
Scoring Tool for Use by Any Mine Site
IRMA leaders also want to encourage all interested companies to use the IRMA Standard, even if they are not at the point where they are ready to apply for candidate status or certification. Consequently, IRMA is in the process of developing a scoring tool, which will allow any mine site to be audited to determine how it measures up against the IRMA Standard requirements at a specific point in time. By identifying areas of strengths and weaknesses, these mines can focus resources on areas important to stakeholders, and over time, be audited again and hopefully demonstrate that improvements have been made in social and/or environmental performance.
IRMA recognizes that innovation, which could be anything from the development and use of more efficient equipment to new ways of working collaboratively with stakeholders, feeds into the continuing evolution of best practices. IRMA will look for ways to incentivize and reward mine sites that reach beyond the current standards, regardless of whether a mine has met all of the IRMA requirements or not.
IRMA is in the process of developing an independent third-party assurance system to provide a credible mechanism for verifying that the Standard for Responsible Mining has been met a mine site. The framework under consideration includes the following:
- Certificates will be issued by third-party certification bodies whose auditors are trained by IRMA (or a third-party approved by IRMA). To determine whether or not a mine site has met the requirements set forth in the Standard for Responsible Mining, certification bodies will conduct audits of the mining operation. The audit will involve on-site visits, review of mine-related documentation, and interviews/consultations with the mining company employees, workers, union representatives, affected community members and other stakeholders.
- Certificates will be issued for a certain period of time (not yet decided, but likely 3 to 5 years, with the possibility of mid-cycle reviews/audits). Following this period, a re-evaluation of the mine site will be conducted to see if certification should be renewed. During these subsequent certification periods, companies will be expected to make changes and upgrades as required by any updates to the Standard for Responsible Mining.
- 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 may carry out activities such as observing auditors, reviewing audit reports, interviewing stakeholders, etc., as part of its assessment; and will publish a summary of its review of the various IRMA certification bodies.
- IRMA is designing its certification program to meet ISEAL Alliance’s Code of Good Practice for Assuring Compliance with Social and Environmental Standards. ISEAL supports and drives quality for the best-known and most successful sustainability standard systems.
The development of IRMA’s assurance system is being informed by other multi-stakeholder, voluntary certification schemes, such as Forest Stewardship Council, Marine Stewardship Council and others. IRMA is also incorporating learning from field testing of the draft Standard for Responsible Mining. These field tests have provided information that has helped to improve the auditability of the IRMA Standard requirements, as well as the future design of IRMA’s verification program. Read more about IRMA field testing here.
We are planning to beta test the IRMA certification system in 2017. This early phase will be designed to encourage rapid learning and system improvements and will serve as the development ground for key aspects of the verification program including guidance documents and training systems.
Mine sites that participate in the beta-test phase may achieve IRMA Certification or Candidate Status, depending on how a mine site's performance measures up to the IRMA Standard requirements. The pioneering set of mine sites brought into the beta-test phase will be selected through an application process, in an effort to achieve a diversity of mined materials, mine sizes, operation types and geographies that will best support IRMA's learning in its important first year of certification.
Any mining companies interested in offering up a mine site to participate in the beta test phase should contact Aimee Boulanger, IRMA Coordinator.