IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining (Draft 2.0)
Chapter 2.11 Cultural Heritage


Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical structures, landscapes and artifacts, as well as intangible attributes of a group or society, such as language, activities or knowledge that has cultural, scientific, spiritual or religious value.[1]

Mining and other forms of industrial development can over time both create and also result in profound and irreversible damage to cultural heritage. Most obviously, mining activities can destroy or damage tangible cultural heritage, such as historical buildings or sites of spiritual significance. But damage to intangible cultural heritage may also occur as a result of inappropriate visitation of sites or the inappropriate use of traditional knowledge.[2]

Increasingly, mining companies are recognizing the importance of protecting and where possible promoting cultural heritage to respect the rights of, and strengthen relationships with communities wherever they operate.[3]

Objectives/Intent of this Chapter

To protect and respect the cultural heritage of communities and indigenous peoples.

Scope of Application

Chapter Relevance:  This chapter is applicable to all mines applying for IRMA certification that have the potential impact indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage and/or the cultural heritage of non-indigenous communities.

New vs. Existing Mines:  New mines and existing mines shall meet the requirements in this chapter. Existing mines that have not carried out a cultural heritage assessment as per 2.11.1 are not expected to carry out an assessment unless there are proposed changes to the company’s plans or activities that may potentially affect cultural heritage (or significantly change the nature or degree of an existing impact on cultural heritage); or if previously unknown cultural heritage is encountered by the mining company (also known as “chance finds”).


  • This chapter previously cited many of the IFC Performance Standard 8 (IFC PS8) requirements. The chapter has been rewritten to add clarity and reduce duplicative requirements or extraneous information, so that companies know exactly IRMA expects of companies with respect to cultural heritage due diligence. It still aligns strongly with IFC PS8. Where used, the specific IFC paragraph of PS8 will be cited in IRMA Guidance for this chapter.
  • The requirements previously listed under 2.11.9.  Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Heritage and 2.11.10.  Cultural Heritage Awareness, Management and Information Sharing have not been deleted – they were integrated into other criteria (i.e., 2.11.5.  Critical Cultural Heritage; 2.11.7. Commercial Use of Cultural Heritage; and 2.11.2. Cultural Heritage Procedures and Training).
  • The means of verification (MOV) have been removed from this version of the draft IRMA Standard. If you would prefer to review and comment on a version of the draft Standard that has the means of verification, you can download a pdf version of the Standard with MOV.

Cultural Heritage Requirements

2.11.1.  Cultural Heritage Assessment  Prior to the development of a new mine, or when there are significant changes to mining related activities, the operating company shall undertake a screening process to identify risks and potential impacts to cultural heritage from the proposed mining-related activities.  If the screening indicates potential adverse impacts, the operating company shall assess the nature and scale of the impacts and propose mitigation measures.  Screening, assessment and development of mitigation measures shall be carried out by competent professionals, and include consultations with relevant stakeholders.[4]

2.11.2.  Cultural Heritage Procedures and Training  If the assessment demonstrates the potential for cultural heritage to be encountered during mining-related activities, or if previously unknown cultural heritage is encountered, the operating company shall ensure that relevant employees receive training with respect to cultural awareness, cultural heritage site recognition and care, and company procedures for cultural heritage management.  If the proposed location of a project is in an area where cultural heritage is expected to be found, the operating company shall develop procedures for:

a. Managing chance finds.

b.  The procedure shall, at minimum, require that employees or contractors shall not further disturb any chance find until an evaluation by competent professionals is made and actions consistent with the requirements of this chapter are developed;

c. Managing potential impacts to cultural heritage from contractors and visitors; and

d. Allowing continued access to cultural sites, subject to consultations with affected communities and overriding health, safety, and security considerations.  If the project affects indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage, the operating company shall collaborate with indigenous peoples to determine procedures related to the sharing of information related to cultural heritage.

2.11.3.  Removal of Replicable Cultural Heritage  When tangible cultural heritage that is replicable and not critical is encountered, the operating company shall apply mitigation measures that favor avoidance. Where avoidance is not feasible, the following mitigation hierarchy shall apply:

  • Minimize adverse impacts and implement restoration measures, in situ, that ensure maintenance of the value and functionality of the cultural heritage, including maintaining or restoring any ecosystem processes needed to support it;
  • Where restoration in situ is not possible, restore the functionality of the cultural heritage, in a different location, including the ecosystem processes needed to support it;
  • Where restoring the functionality of the cultural heritage in a different location is not feasible, permanently remove historical and archeological artifacts and structures; and where affected communities are using the tangible cultural heritage for long-standing cultural purposes compensate for loss of that tangible cultural heritage.  All mitigation work involving replicable cultural heritage shall be carried out and documented by competent professionals, using internationally recognized practices for the protection of cultural heritage.

2.11.4.  Removal of Non-Replicable Cultural Heritage  The operating company shall not remove any nonreplicable cultural heritage, unless all of the following conditions are met:

a. There are no technically or financially feasible alternatives to removal;

b. The overall benefits of the project conclusively outweigh the anticipated cultural heritage loss from removal; and

c. Any removal of cultural heritage is conducted using the best available technique.  All mitigation work involving non-replicable cultural heritage shall be carried out and documented by competent professionals, using internationally recognized practices for the protection of cultural heritage.

2.11.5.  Critical Cultural Heritage  Except under exceptional circumstances, the operating company shall not remove, significantly alter, or damage critical cultural heritage. In exceptional circumstances when impacts on critical cultural heritage are unavoidable, the operating company shall collaborate with affected communities to negotiate measures to protect critical cultural heritage and provide equitable outcomes for affected communities. Where impacts may occur to indigenous peoples’ critical cultural heritage, negotiation shall take place through the Free, Prior and Informed Consent process outlined in Chapter 2.10) unless otherwise specified by the indigenous peoples.  The process and outcome shall be documented.  The operating company shall retain external experts to assist in the assessment and protection of critical cultural heritage, and use internationally recognized practices for the protection of cultural heritage.[5]

2.11.6.  Cultural Heritage in Legally Protected Areas  Where a proposed project is located within a legally protected cultural heritage area or a legally defined buffer zone, the operating company shall:

a. Ensure that the legally protected area is not considered a Highly Protected Area, as per IRMA Chapter 3.7;

b. Comply with the requirements, and;

c. Comply with national and/or local cultural heritage protected area management plans;

d. Consult with agencies or bodies responsible for protected area governance and management, local communities and other key stakeholders on the proposed project; and

e. Implement additional programs, as appropriate, to promote and enhance the conservation aims of the protected area.

2.11.7.  Commercial Use of Cultural Heritage  Where the operating company proposes to use the cultural heritage, including knowledge, innovations, or practices of local communities for commercial purposes, the company shall inform these communities of their rights under national and international law; the scope and nature of the proposed commercial development; and the potential consequences of such development.  The operating company shall not proceed with such commercialization unless it:

a. Collaborates with affected communities using a good faith negotiation process that results in a documented outcome; and

b. Provides for fair and equitable sharing of benefits from commercialization of such knowledge, innovation, or practice, consistent with their customs and traditions.  Where the operating company proposes to use indigenous peoples’ cultural heritage for commercial uses, negotiation shall take place through the Free, Prior and Informed Consent process outlined in Chapter 2.10 unless otherwise specified by the indigenous peoples.


This chapter uses, as its basis, the IFC Performance Standard 8 (PS 8) Cultural Heritage. Where used, the specific IFC paragraph of PS 8 is cited in the requirements below.  Where the IFC PS8 was used to inform an IRMA requirement, the specific IFC paragraph of PS 8 will be cited in IRMA Guidance for this chapter.

While this chapter applies to both indigenous and non-indigenous cultural heritage, it does not specify special requirements applicable to Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) designated as such by indigenous peoples. Such areas may be considered by indigenous peoples as a part of their cultural heritage and, as such, would be covered by the general requirements of this chapter and/or Chapter 2.10—Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Cross Reference to Other Chapters



1.1—Legal Compliance Some host countries may have laws relating to the assessment and protection of cultural heritage. As per Chapter 1.1, if host country laws related to cultural heritage exist, a company is required to abide by those laws. However, if IRMA requirements are more stringent than host country law, the company is required to also meet the IRMA requirements, as long as complying with them would not require the operating company to break the host country law.
2.4—Human Rights Compliance and Due Diligence If the infringement of human rights is predicted during cultural heritage assessment, or if human rights related to cultural heritage have been infringed upon at a new or existing mines, a company will be expected to prevent, mitigate and remediate the impacts as per Chapter 2.4.  This includes the mitigation or remediation of human-rights-related impacts from past cultural heritage management activities at existing mines.
2.8—Community and Stakeholder Engagement Engagement with stakeholders and indigenous peoples regarding cultural heritage shall conform to the requirements in Chapter 2.8 Community and Stakeholder Engagement. In particular, criterion 2.8.3 is important to ensure that stakeholders have the capacity to fully understand their rights and collaborate effectively in the development of prevention/mitigation plans and monitoring processes. Also, 2.8.4 ensures that communications and information are in formats and languages that are accessible and understandable to affected communities and stakeholders, and provided in a timely, culturally appropriate manner.
2.10—Free, Prior and Informed Consent The identification and assessment of mining activities that impact critical cultural heritage of indigenous peoples may be addressed as part of the FPIC process as per Chapter 2.10. 
3.7—Protected Areas Some legally protected areas are designated as such to preserve “critical cultural heritage.” The operating company is required in Chapter 3.7 to identify legally protected areas that may be affected by mining-related activities. That information will be applicable for Criteria 2.11.6 Cultural Heritage in Legally Protected Areas. Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) designated as such by indigenous peoples, may be considered as cultural heritage by indigenous peoples and therefore addressed in Chapter 2.11. However, consideration of the ecological attributes of protected ICCAs may also be addressed in Chapter 3.7 of the IRMA Standard.
4.1—Environmental and Social Impact Assessment The cultural heritage assessment required in 2.11.1 may be done in coordination with or as part of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment in Chapter 4.1, rather than as a stand-alone assessment.




1. Adapted from: Daes, E. 1995. Protection of the heritage of indigenous people. Final report of the Special Rapporteur, Mrs. Erica-Irene Daes, in conformity with Subcommission resolution 1993/44 and decision 1994/105 of the Commission on Human Rights. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/26. June 21, 1995; and IFC. 2012. IFC’s Guidance Notes: Performance Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability. Guidance Note 7, p. 17.
2. E.g., some indigenous heritage sites may be gendered—safe for one sex but dangerous to the other; indigenous peoples’ knowledge regarding the existence, location and significance of sites is often not public; and for some indigenous peoples, if knowledge of sacred sites is transferred inappropriately it may be dangerous to both the giver and receiver. (O’Fairchellaigh, C. 2008. Negotiating Cultural Heritage? Aboriginal-Mining Company Agreements in Australia. p. 7)

3. E.g.,  see Anglo American. 2009. The Anglo Social Way: Management System Standards. p. 12; and also: Rio Tinto. 2011. Why Cultural Heritage Matters.

4. Relevant stakeholders may include communities within the host country who use, or have used within living memory, the cultural heritage, academics or others with expertise on the local cultural heritage, and national or local regulatory agencies that are entrusted with the protection of cultural heritage.

5. For example, the best available technique proposed by the competent professionals used by the operating company’s could undergo a peer review by international external experts, or technical experts selected by stakeholders, to ensure that no better, feasible techniques are available.