For the past 10 years,there has been an international effort underway to establish a protocol for responsiblemining practices that would apply to all jurisdictions.
The Initiative for ResponsibleMining Assurance (IRMA) was launched when global consciousness began to emerge overthe mining of conflict diamonds. Since then, companies such as , ArcelorMittal, Microsoft, Tiffany's, and others have cometo the table to draft a credible certification system that will monitor mine siteson a host of factors.
The initiative releasedits second draft of the Standard for Responsible Mining last week, which reflectsinput by more than 70 organizations worldwide.
On April 6, SNL Metals& Mining spoke with IRMA Coordinator Aimee Boulanger and member of the IRMAsteering committee Alan Young, who is concurrently the Senior Advisor on CorporateEngagement for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, to discuss the aimsof the standard and outstanding issues to be resolved.
What follows is an editedversion of that interview.
SNL Metals & Mining:This new standard will measure how well mines fare when it comes to social, economic,environmental and community concerns. How will IRMA issue its rankings?
Aimee Boulanger: Theprocess would be voluntary. It won't be a company getting certified, it would bea mine site. But a company could choose to put all of their mine sites in a portfoliointo certification if they chose. An NGO could not apply, but it could turn to themine and pressure it to sign up [for certification]. Also, a purchaser could dothe same.
There are three different ways that a mine site could participate.They could apply for full certification, if they meet all the majority requirementsof the chapters in the standard. There are more than 25 chapters, and detail expectationsaround mining and conflict, air quality, and fair safe labor practices. It's a bigreach.
There are other options. A mine could aim a threshold down forthe candidate status. Right now, we're in the midst of identifying what the thresholdis for the core sets of requirements for that level. Mine sites may choose to stayat that level for a bit as a stepping stone. The third way is that even sites thatare nowhere near that level of meeting the standards could be audited by IRMA-creditedauditors, and then over a period of time share their scores with their stakeholderbase — the local community, purchasers, investors — to show continuing improvement.
There are other mine assessmentprograms that have already been put in place. How is IRMA different, and could therebe a problem concerning replication of standards?
Boulanger: IRMA is the first standard of its kind.Others would say there are a number of different programs that exist in the fieldaround these edges. The Mining Association of Canada has its own program, "TowardSustainable Mining." But it's industry-driven, not multi-stakeholder, althoughthere are overlaps. We are very much in conversation with them, and we're likelyto have members who participate in both programs.
Alan Young: We view[these systems] as being complementary. TSM is the most meaningful and rigorousstandard that's out there, and it's really good that it has transparency. Clearlyit's a broader standard that is meant to capture all member companies, and thereforeit's always going to represent not as high a bar as possible.
The way we view it, in relation to IRMA, while MAC owns the standard,it's an industry-run standard, not multi-stakeholder. It's something that allowsthe industry to feel safe with it. IRMA represents a multi-stakeholder designedand managed standard, which means it will go beyond an industry general standard.
IRMA is looking more consistently at performance as opposed topolicies and systems. MAC has some performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions,and it focuses more on whether you have a system in place, but it's not measuringthe effectiveness of that system. It's important to bring companies up to be readyto manage risks and impacts. IRMA takes and builds off the broad foundation thatMAC has provided through the TSM, and takes it to the next level.
Boulanger: In IRMA'sdraft, there's heavy reference to the International Cyanide Code. In cases wherethere may be existing standards, it may have civil society groups saying, "theIRMA standard can go beyond existing standards, and create something new and different."
What are the key issuesthat IRMA has tried to tackle, and what issues remain to be resolved?
Young: One of theinteresting debates was around an approach on water quality. Some felt that whatwe needed was a prescribed set of numbers that were consistent with internationalbest practice standards to measure effluent, using a prescriptive and rigorous approach.On the other side, the industry for the most part felt that it would miss the opportunityto look at a more holistic approach, that would identify key values, work up numbersthat were agreed to by all partners, manage according to site-specific priorities,that were still based on the principle of maintaining water quality.
What we did in the course of the debate was to try and teaseout greater clarity on both approaches, what was flexible, how to be accountable.Water quality is the ultimate litmus test on mines, so if you get that wrong … wedidn't fully resolve that question, but that's ok. We don't pretend to have allthe answers. There are lots of experts out there, and we wanted to bring the conversationto a larger group to get a good input. I'm not embarrassed by the fact that we haven'tgot it all figured out, because nobody does.
Conflict areas were another sticky issue. Should we create no-gozones in the standard? Other areas we were looking at included how to deal withnew mines versus existing mines? The standard is not meant to be just for new mines,we want to be able to bring old mines that are good into the system. In order todo that, we have to consider potential grandfather clauses, but be very clear thatwe are not giving companies a free pass to compromise the standard.
Was it difficult to reachconsensus with so many different groups — including NGOs, civil society, and miningcompanies — at the discussion table?
Young: We've alwaysapproached all parties in good faith, knowing that we might hit a place along theway that would be a genuine impasse. It could have been from the NGO side, or theindustry side. We've had a couple of those where we've come up against it, and youhave to be prepared to walk away from the table if you don't get what you need.But to our surprise and delight, we kept coming up with solutions, due to flexibilityon both sides.
This is not an easy time for the industry, given commodity prices.But we continue to see real interest and real commitment from Anglo American andArcelor, as well as an unwavering commitment from Tiffany's as well as ongoing andincreased interest from the likes of Microsoft and others. It's clear that thisis addressing an issue which only gets more important as each year passes.
It's fascinating to see how these issues have evolved. It's anindicator of ongoing expectations of society around responsible sources, the spreadof news related to sourcing of metals and the impact they have on communities, thattransparency and social expectations are not going to go away, and smart companiesare starting to realize that.
How are these challengesbeing met in the Canadian mining space?
Young: In the Canadiancontext, rising expectations and the power in indigenous communities are now supportedby the Supreme Court, where you've got some pretty interesting mines such as 's Voisey's Bay and Rio Tinto's Diavik,which have met a higher standard and negotiated with First Nations. But there'sstill a broad range of performance challenges that others are facing, such as 's and 's . We're not seeing thathigh-bar performance consistently enough across the industry, and people are noticing.Our laws don't seem to be protecting us as well as we'd like them to.
We know the industry is capable of doing better. We need to finda way to encourage and reward them for doing better, in a framework where we canhonestly measure how they're doing.