This Market Insight comes from Aimee Boulanger, an Executive Director at IRMA. IRMA boasts one of the most comprehensive responsible mining standards globally, covering the most pertinent social and environmental concerns across all metal supply chains. The LME has recently registered the IRMA standard as a certification against which producers can disclose on LMEpassport, according to the four gradients of the achievement level reached (Transparency, 50, 75 and 100 “Certified”).
What is IRMA?
IRMA is the answer to questions posed at its founding in 2006; what does it mean to mine responsibly and how can we assess operations at a mine site to differentiate best practices from those doing harm? Over the course of a decade, a diverse group of stakeholders worked collaboratively to answer these questions, ultimately crafting the world’s first shared definition of what it means to mine responsibly: IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining.
IRMA is now a global organisation managing both the standard and a system for independent verification of a mine’s performance against that standard. While we share the view that we must work to increase recycling, durability of goods and a more circular economy, IRMA’s Standard for Responsible Mining is meant to support the reduction of harm where new extraction is still needed.
How does IRMA align with LME’s approach to sustainability?
In its overview on sustainability, the LME relays that “as global demand for metals increases, so will the expectations on sustainable standards,” and we firmly agree. Not only are more investors, purchasers of mined materials and civil society members seeking more information on practices at the mine site, they also have higher expectations of how this information is gathered and then shared.
This is where we feel IRMA plays a unique role in the landscape of mine-site certification. The standard we use to assess a mine’s practices is the most rigorous in the industry and the audit process for that assessment is the most transparent and inclusive. The reports we release following a mine audit are highly detailed and freely available on our website, bringing a new level of transparency in reporting to the mining sector.
In this way, we align with the LME’s sustainability strategy, which “hinges on providing metal market participants with the option for greater transparency and access in respect of sustainably produced metal and metal.”
Why is multi-stakeholder governance so important in IRMA?
One of the most important attributes of IRMA is its commitment to equally serve each stakeholder group impacted by mining.
One way we do so is through the multi-stakeholder governance model of the IRMA Board of Directors. The six stakeholder houses of IRMA - mining, labour, communities, NGOs, purchasing, and finance - each have equal voting power in guiding how the IRMA system operates and which requirements are included in the Standard.
Additionally, we seek to serve all stakeholders through our inclusive and transparent audit process. IRMA proactively reaches out to communities and NGOs in advance of audits so these stakeholders can participate in interviews with auditors and share the perspective on a mine’s practices. This enables a holistic assessment of the mine’s performance, which benefits all parties: purchasers of mined materials, investors, civil society and even the mines themselves. Ultimately, the audit report can act as a guidebook as mines work to implement more responsible practices and it is also an important tool for corporate leadership to understand practices at its various locations.
How can mining companies engage in IRMA?
Increasingly, buyers of mined materials, such as BMW, General Motors, Volkswagen, Microsoft and Tiffany & Co., are making clear their intent and interest to source from IRMA-assessed mines.
Additionally, several non-corporate actors - from environmental and social NGOs to governments - have referred to IRMA as the type of standard they wish to see adopted by the mining sector.
For mining companies that wish to respond to this request from clients and other stakeholders, we recommend a five-step process for engaging in IRMA:
- Learn about IRMA. We offer free, confidential meetings for mining companies to gain a better understanding of the system, including our programs, tools, audit process, value of the certification and associated costs.
- Self-assess in IRMA in 2022. Currently, IRMA’s self-assessment tool, "Mine Measure", is free of charge for a mining company to assess one mine site.
- Undertake a third party assessment in IRMA in 2022 or 2023. This is ultimately the most important step, as the third-party audit will result in verifiable information about performance at a mine site.
- Make commitments to improve practices. The IRMA process is based on continuous improvement. Results from a third party assessment can support mines by providing context on current areas of strength, as well as challenges. Additionally, IRMA’s scoring system provides a way for the downstream supply chain to assess and value improvement in a mine sites’ operations over time.
- Plan for third party audits at all sites in the coming years. Work to set a long-term plan to conduct third party assessments of all mine sites.
A new level of transparency
While transparent reporting on company practices has long been required for other sectors, from forestry to apparel to fisheries, it has not yet been common practice in the mining sector. This is rapidly changing.
We believe the IRMA audit process and subsequent approach to reporting is an important way to meet the ever-growing demand for more transparency. We welcome mining companies and other stakeholders impacted by mining to engage in IRMA and meet this demand.
Visit our sustainability section for more Market Insight articles and to find out more about our sustainability programme.
Aimee has worked on mining issues for 25 years, with substantial experience in directly affected communities. In IRMA, her role is to guide an organisation which is fully accountable to multi-stakeholder leadership, creating market value for more responsible business practices while ensuring credibility and accountability to all stakeholders. She holds a degree in Environmental Studies and Politics from Mount Holyoke College. She has served IRMA’s leadership since 2011.