Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson-CCBY2.0Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson-CCBY2.0Standards

ISO, responsible mining, and multi-stakeholder engagement

As the ISO takes on important work on responsible mining, IRMA restates the importance of inclusive and meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement

On 15-16 February 2024 in Tokyo, Japan, IRMA participated in the first working session of the ISO IWA 45, an international working agreement on “sustainable critical mineral supply chains.” This project is led by Standards Australia (Australia’s national standardization body) under the auspices of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and is tasked to “understand the range of sustainability tools/guides/frameworks available which will assist in improving an organization’s sustainability outcomes.” ISO is a quasi-governmental organization dedicated to standard development, headquartered in Switzerland and composed of the national standards bodies of its member countries.

This workshop was an in-person-only event which, while providing constructive opportunity for people to connect directly, dramatically reduced the number and diversity of stakeholders affected by mining and mineral value chains to participate. There were about 45 participants, with a majority from industry (mining and mineral processing) and consultants to the private sector, followed by government delegations (including national standardization bodies and state agencies or research institutions). The most represented countries were the United States, Canada, China, and Japan.

Articulating the perspectives of our members from six houses—affected communities, downstream purchasers, investment and finance, mining industry, NGOs, and organized labor—IRMA worked actively in the session to integrate the perspectives of civil society and organized labor, as those groups were not in attendance. We are concerned about how their absence might leave a significant gap in this process and encourage the event organizers to increase this outreach.

The working session opened with a summary of the results obtained from a preliminary survey circulated by Standards Australia in January 2024. Of the 115 full responses received, two-thirds came from the mining and mineral processing industry, 7% from NGOs, and 7% from academia. Most of the responses originated from China and Canada (over 10%), followed by the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Germany, South Africa, and Sweden; other countries were all under 3%.

Given the survey feedback was foremost from industry, the main insights shared by the workshop organizer reflected the positions of industry representatives who engaged in the survey, including the “proliferation,” “overlap,” and “inefficiency” of sustainability standards, the “confusion” they would create, and the “burden” created by assurance mechanisms that would be “significant, costly, and time-consuming”.

It is worth noting that IRMA has never heard civil society or mine workers complain that “assurance processes are too expensive,” but rather that they see need for increased investment in transparent sharing of information on performance and for improved practices. We hope that Standards Australia will be able to soon provide a breakdown of the responses by stakeholder groups and increase outreach to civil society, Indigenous rights holders, and labor leaders.

IRMA emphasized throughout the workshop the importance of inclusive and meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement for ISO to ensure robustness and credibility in its processes and its efforts to standardize responsible business practice. A number of other participants similarly asked for more proactive and targeted outreach to all stakeholder groups. The issue of inclusive and meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement was then selected by the organizer as the final topic for plenary discussion.

As currently designed, IWA and ISO processes, including IWA 45, are not inclusive for affected communities, NGOs, and organized labor, and do not allow for meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement. We ask that this fundamental gap be identified as the top priority in the final report that will be produced by Standards Australia this year, including as a key recommendation to inform the other ongoing ISO committees and workstreams on responsible mining and sustainable mineral value chains.


Photo credit: Dick Thomas Johnson CCBY2.0


IRMA Secretariat statement re Kostenko tragedy

Statement of Aimee Boulanger, Executive Director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), regarding the tragic loss of life of 46 mine workers at ArcelorMittal’s Kostenko mine in Kazakhstan on Saturday, 28 October 2023.

ArcelorMittal has served on IRMA’s Board of Directors since 2015.

The heartbreaking disaster at ArcelorMittal’s Kostenko mine weighs heavily on me, our staff, and IRMA board members. IRMA’s vision is a world where the mining industry respects the human rights and aspirations of affected communities; provides safe, healthy and supportive workplaces; minimizes harm to the environment; and leaves positive legacies. Devastating loss of life, such as has occurred in Kazakhstan, brings into sharp focus the urgency of bringing this vision into reality. At too many mine sites around the world, workers labor under unsafe conditions—and this urgently needs to change. IRMA exists to help create this change.

In coming weeks, IRMA’s labor sector leaders will meet with ArcelorMittal representatives. IRMA, as an organization, won’t take a further stance on this issue until informed by the outcomes of conversations between IndustriALL, USW and ArcelorMittal, as these are the organizations best set to make a recommendation to the IRMA Board of Directors.

IRMA is a system seeking to drive more responsible mining practices around the world, responsive to the values of six governing houses, including labor unions, mining companies, NGOs, affected communities, investors and companies who purchase mined materials. These six houses equally govern IRMA’s multistakeholder system.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those whose lives were lost at this ArcelorMittal mine site. May our work together prevent future losses of life and ensure greater welfare for people and the lands they rely on.