Monthly Archives: September 2023

Sewell, Chile Attribution: Hiroki OgawaSewell, Chile Attribution: Hiroki OgawaAudits

IRMA response to civil society groups’ greenwashing concerns

1 Oct note: this blog has been edited since it was originally published to add IRMA’s position on “certification” and to increase clarity

An acknowledgment

IRMA acknowledges the continuing frustrations and important concerns raised in a statement by a network of civil society groups in relation to voluntary initiatives and certification systems, and specifically critique of the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining and its associated independent audit system. We hear loud and clear their concerns that the Standard’s verification and achievement levels, and even participating in the audit process, could enable what some affected communities see as “greenwashing” the impacts of large-scale extraction. While we respond here to the concerns raised, we will respect request of groups in this network to not be named in our response.

IRMA’s Standards seek to reflect the perspectives of all stakeholders and Indigenous rightsholders using an equal, multi-stakeholder governance model. We actively seek out and encourage diverse perspectives from civil society actors as evident through the composition of working groups that aim to ensure that IRMA equally represents all concerned with the impacts of mining and the need to reduce harm. Some in civil society will find use in IRMA’s tools to make mining projects better, reducing negative impacts and increasing benefit sharing, others may reference IRMA’s definition of best practices when resisting mining in a place where Indigenous rights holders and others affected believe the risks and losses are too great. IRMA’s Standards reflect the principles of international conventions such as ILO 169 and the United Nations Decrlation on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and also the International Finance Corporation’s expectations that companies demonstrate they have achieved “broad community support” where they do business.

Not a replacement for government oversight

IRMA is a voluntary initiative intended to be used as a tool to offer transparency and accessibility to independently verified information of a mine site’s performance. It is not intended to replace or interfere with government oversight. We agree that no voluntary initiative has enforcement power to hold mining companies financially or legally accountable for infractions. IRMA’s independent audits are meant to provide unprecedented transparency and information about individual mining operations that affected stakeholders and rightsholders can use to demand better mining practices. This also offers opportunity for diverse sectors to differentiate and create greater value for mining companies who reduce harm, increasingly adopt best practices and more equitably share benefits with host communities.

IRMA doesn’t certify

It is important to note that IRMA is not a “certification” system. Although many voluntary standard systems do assign a stamp of approval, IRMA does not. We create and maintain a best-practice mining Standard, and through independent auditing, we report how a mining operation performs against that Standard. An IRMA 50 or 75 isn’t a stamp of approval. Rather, it’s insight into how an independent audit firm decided that the mine scored no lower than either 50% or 75% in the 4 IRMA principles: environmental and social responsibility, business integrity, and leaving positive legacies. Information is power, and power to positively change how mining is done. IRMA is dedicated to ensuring all those affected by mining have the information they need to make informed decisions about the mining that affects them.


Many voluntary standard systems related to mining are governed and primarily funded by private entities or industry trade associations. Civil society organizations have expressed concern that the motives of mining trade associations may appear in conflict with those whose highest priority is avoiding or minimizing mining’s negative impacts. We seek opportunities to collaborate with mining trade associations as they offer powerful potential to support their members to improve practices – and IRMA will maintain its fundamental commitment to equal governance by affected communities, labor unions, and NGOs working alongside private sector leaders. IRMA’s funding structure does include income from private sector membership fees and special project grants. However, over 50% of our funding is from philanthropic organizations that are passionate about climate justice and an equitable energy transition, including but not limited to the Ford Foundation, Climateworks Foundation, 11th Hour Project and Waverley Street Foundation.

Audits and audit firms

The network’s statement criticizes voluntary initiatives for not requiring surprise/unscheduled audits, expressing concern that mine sites can prepare in advance to clean-up or hide negative aspects of their operations. Auditor firms trained and approved by IRMA conduct an extensive review of documentation (including but not limited to records of site photos and digital files) to make informed decisions regarding compliance with standard requirements. IRMA is the only mining standard that requires public notice of audits before they begin – so that any Indigenous rights holder or other stakeholder may have direct access to auditors, to share their perspectives and concerns. Auditors reach out to stakeholders though various means to hear diverse perspectives, including online comment forms and social media (including WhatsApp), radio announcements, flyers and word of mouth individual outreach. IRMA staff also work to spread the word, including in-person conversations with workers, local community members, and NGO allied organizations.

IRMA acknowledges and shares the concerns regarding the expertise and impartiality of auditors and the auditing companies that employ them. As mentioned in the network’s statement, the reality is that most auditors for the mining sector, to date, have historically been accustomed to assessing mine sites against industry-led initiatives and standards. Affiliates of auditing companies have at times also served mining company clients either directly or indirectly through other means such as technical consulting services. IRMA requires its approved audit firms to follow conflict of interest rules, meet technical and expertise criteria, and draft audit reports are reviewed by IRMA’s Director of Assurance prior to finalization. The first 15 initial audits against the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining have served and are serving both the IRMA Secretariat and Board, and the audit firms with whom we work, an opportunity to listen, learn and identify ways to improve the process for training of auditors, clarifying requirements in the Standard and improving civil society engagement in the audit process.

Improvement is for IRMA too, not just mining operations

The IRMA Secretariat and Board of Directors appreciate the recommendations from organizations that are critical of voluntary initiatives, and we commit to a practice of continually improving the IRMA system to build the trust, value and confidence for everyone who uses the system. IRMA is currently in the process of acting on civil society recommendations to improve methods for communicating audit report results and accessibility to IRMA’s Issues Resolution System.

IRMA’s approach to supporting more responsible mining encompasses the need to have mining operations be measured against best practices as assessed through the 400+ requirements of the standard. By supporting civil society participation in audits, we work to amplify the right of Indigenous rights holders and other stakeholders who say “No” to a mining operation, and to those who seek reduction of harm, increased access to information, improved benefits sharing and elevating their perspectives at an international level. IRMA firmly believes that through constructive dialogue with all IRMA can be a tool that encourages change that is equitable and inclusive of all perspectives in relation to mining.

IRMA mining engagement Sep 2023IRMA mining engagement Sep 2023Blog

IRMA Mining Engagement Update – Sep 2023

As of Sep 2023, 76 mining companies are now engaged in IRMA representing 99 sites:

59 sites are self-assessing under the IRMA Standard (36 have made this public), the first step before an independent audit;

23 are piloting the draft IRMA exploration (IRMA Ready) or mineral processing standard self-assessments

15 are in the independent assessment system: 11 audits are underway (South Africa, Senegal, Mozambique, Brazil, Chile, Argentina) and 4 completed audits have been published (Zimbabwe, Mexico, Chile)

They encompass 29 countries:

  1. Argentina
  2. Australia
  3. Brazil
  4. Canada
  5. Chile
  6. Colombia
  7. Dominican Rep.
  8. Finland
  9. France
  10. Indonesia
  11. Liberia
  12. Mexico
  13. Mozambique
  14. Namibia
  15. New Caledonia
  16. Norway
  17. Panama
  18. Portugal
  19. Philippines
  20. Russia
  21. Senegal
  22. South Africa
  23. Spain
  24. Sri Lanka
  25. Turkey
  26. Ukraine
  27. United States
  28. Zambia
  29. Zimbabwe

And 52 minerals and mineral types:

  1. Aggregates
  2. Barite
  3. Bauxite
  4. Cerium
  5. Chromite
  6. Chromium
  7. Coal (metallurgical)
  8. Cobalt
  9. Copper
  10. Diamonds
  11. Europium
  12. Feldspar
  13. Gadolinium
  14. Gold
  15. Graphite
  16. Iridium
  17. Iron
  18. Kyanite
  19. Lanthanum
  20. Lead
  21. Limestone
  22. Lithium
  23. Magnesium
  24. Mica
  25. Mineral sands
  26. Molybdenum
  27. Monazite sand
  28. Neodymium
  29. Nickel
  30. Osmium
  31. Palladium
  32. Praseodymium
  33. Platinum
  34. Potash
  35. Quartz
  36. Rare earth elements
  37. Rhodium
  38. Ruthenium
  39. Samarium
  40. Sand
  41. Selenium
  42. Silver
  43. Staurolite
  44. Sulphur
  45. Talc
  46. Tellurium
  47. Titanium
  48. Tourmaline
  49. Vanadium
  50. Xenotime
  51. Zinc
  52. Zircon
Circular Economy

IRMA’s Work to Advance Circular Economy Approaches

IRMA is working across sectors and initiatives to clarify and advance circular economy approaches to responsible production and use of minerals. Circular economy approaches utilize integrated strategies to address a range of climate, environmental, and social issues associated with primary and secondary materials, reducing waste while capturing greater value from materials and processes throughout the life cycle of the mineral.

Circular economy approaches involve a systems approach throughout the materials life cycle, including:

  • designing products and services for material recovery and reuse;
  • establishing better technology, infrastructure, and policies for the extraction of metals and minerals including from consumer products and existing mine waste; and
  • adopting regenerative approaches to ecosystem impacts.

Demands for minerals associated with the energy transition will require expansion of both primary and secondary production of mined materials for decades to come. At the same time, expectations are increasing throughout supply chains regarding low carbon production methods, broader responsible sourcing requirements, and integration of circular economy strategies ranging from production and sourcing of durable goods, enhancing material reuse and recycling, integrating responsibly sourced recycled and scrap material at the mineral processing level, and beyond.

IRMA formed an Expert Working Group on Mining and Circularity in 2022 to inform integration of circular economy approaches into the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining and IRMA system. We will continue to work to clarify, incorporate, and encourage best practice circular economy approaches throughout all stages of extraction, processing, reuse, and recycling of minerals.

Over the past year, IRMA served as a member of the Expert Working Group on the OECD Handbook on Environmental Due Diligence in Mineral Supply Chains, published in September 2023 and including coverage of circularity and enhanced use of secondary sources.

This year IRMA became a member of the Roundtable on the Responsible Recycling of Metals (RRRM) Non-Ferrous Working Group, collaborating in RRRM efforts to advance understanding of appropriate standards, systems, and tools for the responsible production and sourcing of recycled metals.

IRMA will participate in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 28th Conference of the Parties (COP 28) this year in Dubai, engaging in roundtables and events focused on improving environmental and social responsibility in mineral supply chains for the energy transition and opportunities to advance circularity.

If you have recommendations for ways IRMA can advance circular economy approaches or wish to share case studies of successful strategies, please contact us at

SQM Salar de Atacama audit release webinar cover slideSQM Salar de Atacama audit release webinar cover slideBlog

SQM Salar de Atacama audit release webinar

On 7 September, the day after the release of the audit report of SQM’s Salar de Atacama lithium operation, IRMA hosted a webinar to discuss the significance of the report, and the IRMA Standard and process through which the operation was independently assessed. Joining the webinar was Javier Silva, SQM’s Sustainability and Community Relations Manager. In volunteering its operation for assessment and scoring IRMA 75, SQM submitted its practices to public transparency, providing information that all stakeholders can use to decide what’s going well, and what may require more attention, at the mine.

The 1 hour webinar, which is about 1/2 presentation and 1/2 Q&A, is available below in English and Español. The slides used in the webinar are available as well.



For More Information:
SQM's Salar de Atacama lithium operation. Credit: SQMSQM's Salar de Atacama lithium operation. Credit: SQMAudits

Se auditaron las operaciones de litio en el Salar de Atacama de SQM (Chile) en virtud del estándar para la minería responsable de IRMA

Corrección del 11 de septiembre: la versión anterior de este comunicado usaba la palabra "certificación". IRMA no "certifica" minas, las evaluamos de acuerdo al Estándar de IRMA. Una mina que logra un puntaje IRMA 75 no es una mina aprobada por IRMA, es una mina que ha obtenido al menos un 75% en las cuatro áreas principales del Estándar IRMA: (1) ambiental y (2) responsabilidad social, (3) planificación de legados positivos, y (4) integridad empresarial

La mina logra IRMA 75 y ofrece información novedosa acerca de su desempeño social y ambiental a las comunidades afectadas y otros actores sociales

Audit packet thumbnail6 de septiembre de 2023 — En el día de la fecha, la Initiative for Responsible Mining (IRMA, por sus siglas en inglés) publicó los resultados de una auditoría independiente de las operaciones de litio en el Salar de Atacama de SQM en virtud del estándar para la minería responsable de IRMA. La mina logra un puntaje de IRMA 75 cuando una auditoría independiente midió su desempeño respecto de ciertos criterios sociales y ambientales específicos.

IRMA supervisa el único proceso independiente e integral para evaluar el desempeño individual de las minas respecto de un estándar consensuado que se rige de forma igualitaria. Tal proceso también mide el progreso posterior de la mina en lograr reducir los daños sociales y ambientales. El proceso riguroso de IRMA invita a todas las personas que se ven afectadas o que puedan verse afectadas por una mina a que compartan sus experiencias y perspectivas con el equipo de auditoría.

Confeccionado tras una década de consultas públicas y mediante aportes de más de 100 empresas y organizaciones, el Estándar IRMA y su proceso de evaluación reconoce los motivos de preocupación de las comunidades indígenas titulares de derechos, las comunidades, el personal minero, los defensores de los derechos ambientales y derechos humanos y otros representantes de la sociedad civil. El sistema independiente de IRMA es el único estándar minero internacional que otorga a esos grupos la misma plataforma para expresarse que a las empresas mineras, los compradores de materiales mineros e inversores.

El Salar de Atacama de SQM se suma a otras 15 minas industriales de todo el mundo que realizan auditorías independientes en virtud del Estándar IRMA en 2023. Después de una autoevaluación inicial, la mina participante contrata a una empresa de auditoría independiente —capacitada y aprobada por IRMA— para hacer una evaluación detallada independiente, incluidas visitas a la mina y las comunidades aledañas.

IRMA 75 significa que la empresa de auditoría ERM-CVS verificó que la mina cumplió todos los requisitos críticos del Estándar IRMA y al menos el 75 % de los criterios del Estándar en cada una de las cuatro áreas: responsabilidad social, responsabilidad ambiental, integridad de la empresa y planeación y gestión de legados positivos. El informe completo de la auditoría está disponible en

“La información que necesitan los actores sociales para decidir qué está bien y qué requiere más atención”.

“Este informe demuestra que las minas que aportan materiales esenciales para llevar a cabo la transición a la energía renovable ahora pueden apuntar a evaluaciones transparentes e independientes sobre su desempeño ambiental y social”, afirmó Aimee Boulanger, directora ejecutiva de IRMA. “Mediante informes de auditoría detallados de IRMA, las empresas mineras, las comunidades y las empresas que compran materiales mineros pueden obtener la información que necesitan para decidir qué está bien y qué requiere más atención en minas específicas”.

Dado que el Estándar IRMA es reconocido mundialmente y se implementa en muchos países, estas auditorías son solo el puntapié inicial de un diálogo creciente entre las empresas mineras y las partes afectadas por sus operaciones. Dado que el proceso todavía no es definitivo, IRMA advierte que se deben revisar e interpretar los resultados preliminares en consecuencia.

“El Estándar IRMA es bastante nuevo”, afirmó Boulanger. “Es un proceso desconocido para empresas que deciden voluntariamente hacer una auditoría, e incluso nuestros auditores certificados todavía están aprendiendo. Lo mismo aplica a los integrantes de la comunidad y los trabajadores que responden las entrevistas como parte del proceso; de hecho, algunas personas todavía se muestran reacias a participar. No hay que perder eso de vista al momento de leer el informe de auditoría del Salar de Atacama de SQM. Celebramos que SQM sea una de las primeras minas que se ofreció a hacer la auditoría de acuerdo con estos criterios tan exhaustivos y rigurosos”.

El informe también es una rendición de cuentas honesta acerca del propio progreso de IRMA a medida que se avanza en perfeccionar el Estándar y el proceso de evaluación. “Si los resultados no reflejan del todo la experiencia de las comunidades, las comunidades indígenas titulares de derechos u otros grupos afectados, nos interesa saberlo” agregó Boulanger. “Los pondremos en contacto con la empresa para que puedan entender mejor su desempeño, y con los auditores si existen problemáticas que pasamos por alto en la revisión. Es uno de los pilares de nuestro compromiso con la transparencia. Invitamos a todas las personas que tengan comentarios sobre nuestro trabajo a que se nos unan para poder seguir mejorando. Encontrar maneras de mejorar es la esencia de nuestro sistema y una medida de nuestro éxito”.

“Llevar a cabo una auditoría de IRMA refleja nuestro deseo de mejorar y nuestra apertura al diálogo”.

“El hecho de que Salar de Atacama haya alcanzado la primera certificación de IRMA 75 para una mina de litio da cuenta del gran empeño puesto por todas las personas que conforman SQM.  Llevar a cabo una auditoría de IRMA y difundir los resultados de nuestra auditoría con absoluta transparencia refleja nuestro deseo de mejorar y nuestra apertura al diálogo con todos los actores sociales afectados acerca de cómo lograr ese crecimiento”, aseveró Ricardo Ramos, CEO de SQM.

Obtener más información en la sesión de preguntas y respuestas del webinario.

  • Para registrarse:
  • Jueves 7 de septiembre, 11am CLST/GMT-3 (hora Chilena)
  • Oradores: Aimee Boulanger, directora ejecutiva de IRMA; Adan Olivares Castro, Líder de América; Javier Silva, Gerente de Sostenibilidad y Relaciones Comunitarias de SQM
  • Debate, preguntas y respuestas sobre el significado de los resultados de la auditoría, y cómo las partes interesadas pueden utilizar la información que proporciona una auditoría IRMA para mejorar la transparencia y el funcionamiento de la operación minera.
  • El seminario web tendrá interpretación simultánea para hablantes de español e inglés. Todos los inscritos recibirán un link con la grabación.

Para más información:

SQM's Salar de Atacama lithium operation. Credit: SQMSQM's Salar de Atacama lithium operation. Credit: SQMPress Release

SQM’s Salar de Atacama lithium operation in Chile audited against the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining

Mine achieves IRMA 75, provides new information about social & environmental performance to affected communities and other stakeholders

SQM Salar de Atacama Audit Packet Cover6 Sep 2023 – Today the Initiative for Responsible Mining (IRMA) released the results of an independent audit of SQM’s Salar de Atacama lithium operation against the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining. The mine achieved IRMA 75 when an independent audit firm measured its performance on concrete social and environmental impact criteria.

IRMA oversees the only independent, comprehensive process for assessing individual mines’ performance against an equally governed, consensus-based standard — and for measuring their subsequent progress in reducing social and environmental harm. The rigorous IRMA process invites all those currently or potentially affected by a mine to share their experiences and perspectives with the auditing team.

Developed through a decade of public consultations, with input from more than 100 companies and organizations, the IRMA Standard and assessment process recognize the concerns of Indigenous rights holders, communities and mine workers, as well as environmental and human rights advocates and other representatives of civil society. The independent IRMA system is the only global mining standard that gives such groups an equal voice alongside mining companies, mined materials purchasers and investors.

SQM’s Salar de Atacama joins 15 other industrial-scale mines worldwide that are undergoing independent audits against the IRMA Standard in 2023. After an initial self-assessment, a participating mine engages a third-party audit firm — trained and approved by IRMA — to conduct a detailed independent evaluation, including on-site visits to the mine and nearby communities.

IRMA 75 means the audit firm ERM-CVS verified the mine met all critical requirements of the IRMA Standard, as well as at least 75% of the Standard’s criteria in each of the four areas: social responsibility, environmental responsibility, business integrity and planning for positive legacies. The full audit report is available at

“The information stakeholders need to decide what’s going well — and what may require more attention.”

“This report demonstrates that mines supplying materials essential to the renewable energy transition can now point to transparent, independent evaluations of their environmental and social performance,” said Aimee Boulanger, Executive Director of IRMA. “Through detailed IRMA audit reports, mining companies, communities and companies that purchase mined materials can gain the information they need to decide what’s going well — and what may require more attention — at specific mines.”

As the IRMA Standard is recognized and adopted around the globe, these audits are just the first steps in a deepening dialogue between mining companies and those affected by their operations. And because the process is still evolving, IRMA cautions that the initial results should be reviewed and interpreted accordingly.

“The IRMA Standard is relatively new,” Ms. Boulanger said. “It’s an unfamiliar process for companies that volunteer to be audited, and even our accredited auditors are still learning. The same is true for community members and workers who are interviewed as part of the process, some of whom may not yet feel comfortable engaging. So the SQM Salar de Atacama audit report needs to be read with this in mind. We applaud SQM for stepping forward to be among the first mines audited against such comprehensive and demanding criteria.”

The report also provides an honest accounting of IRMA’s own progress as the Standard and assessment process continue to mature. “If the results don’t fully reflect the experience of communities, Indigenous rights holders or other affected groups, we want to hear from them,” Ms. Boulanger said. “We’ll help them communicate with the company to better understand its performance, and with the auditors on any issues they feel were overlooked in the review. This is a cornerstone of our own commitment to transparency. We invite anyone who has criticisms of our work to join us in making it better. Finding ways to improve is built into our system — and a measure of its success.”

“Committing to an IRMA audit reflects our desire to improve and our openness to dialogue”

“Salar de Atacama’s achievement of the first IRMA 75 for a lithium mine is a testament to the hard work of everyone at SQM.  Committing our mine to an IRMA audit and to the transparent sharing of audit results reflects our desire to improve, and our openness to dialogue with all affected stakeholders about how to do so,” said Ricardo Ramos, CEO of SQM.

Learn more at the Sep 7th Webinar Q&A

  • Thursday, 7 Sep, 11am CLST/GMT-3 (Chile time)
  • Speakers: IRMA Executive Director Aimee Boulanger; IRMA Americas Lead Adan Olivares Castro; Javier Silva, SQM Sustainability and Community Relations Manager
  • A discussion and Q&A about the meaning of the audit results, and how the increased transparency an IRMA audit provides can be used by stakeholders to improve the operation.
  • The webinar will be simultaneously interpreted for Spanish & English speakers. All registrants will receive a recording.

For More Information: