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Understanding Who Benefits from the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)

 Compiled by Sandra Musonzah (Zimbabwe Diamond Allied Workers Union)

01 July 2021

Background and Introduction

The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) is a global initiative thriving for investors and mining companies to adopt “responsible mining and investments” standards. The idea was founded by a coalition of mining companies, affected communities, organized labour, businesses that purchase mineral products, and non-governmental organizations with an aim of ensuring that countries rich in oil, gas and minerals achieve, inclusive development and that people receive lasting benefits from extractives and experience reduced harms.

The initiative encourages mining companies to volunteer to be audited against the IRMA Standard and certification scheme. To this context, Zimbabwe mining companies need to pick key lessons and join such certification scheme to be recognized internationally for their leading responsible practice in their mining operations. This opens opportunities to access international markets and community trust since mining companies are grappling to strike a balance between Investment and Development. To this backdrop, IRMA seeks to complement mining companies’ efforts towards good governance through improved business integrity that envisages a world where the mining industry is respectful of the human rights and aspirations of affected communities; provides safe, health and respectful workplaces; avoids or minimizes harm to the environment; and leaves positive legacies.

Responsible Investment Codes and why we need to participate

The international development community has paid increasing attention in recent years to the potential of the mining industry to act as an engine for growth and poverty reduction in communities. National laws and policies have failed to adequately close gaps of distrust within the context relationships of host governments, mining companies and communities over mineral beneficiation. Communities stand to lose more environment, economic, social and cultural rights at the expense of unregulated mining practices.

IRMA tabled within Zimbabwe extractive sector particularly for mining companies comes in handy in addressing such overdue noticeable problems affecting equitable use of natural resources. Mining companies need to volunteer in joining the initiative drawing lessons from Unki Mine Audit which joined the IRMA initiative, and now cited amongst the few African mines to be audited internationally. Joining IRMA positions mining companies to investment opportunities and broaden market potential.

Communities and interested stakeholders are not restricted to audit mining companies within their vicinity but then again can use the information available in the public domain, online and survey documentary to assess against IRMA standards. For that reason, ZELA and its stakeholders (community-based organisations, community paralegals, monitors, data extractors, women forums and human rights defenders) are commissioning surveys of how other companies are performing against the IRMA standard such as Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), Mimosa, Murowa Zimplats, Caledonia and witness how far they can score against the IRMA standard. The idea behind is to encourage mining companies to relate “responsible mining and investments” principles despite not yet officially IRMA members. The audit results, with detailed notes on the mine’s performance serves to give a clear picture of a mine and offer opportunities for improvement from mining companies.

Furthermore, communities and broader civil society through IRMA have opportunities to be engaged throughout the audit process and evaluate a new mine’s proposal against the standard. The initiative measures companies how it performs against IRMA’s standard. Through volunteering to be audited against the IRMA, mining companies demonstrate the ability to do responsible, sustainable business and underlines how the community, government can work harmoniously. It also creates benchmark for the way in which the country ‘s natural resources can be exploited in a way that reduces negative impacts and increases the benefit for all stakeholders. That commitment needs to be underpinned by trust and joining international best practices on responsible mining and investments.

 International best practice on Legal Compliance 

IRMA developed a legal compliance requirement tool that provide for the promotion, protection and facilitation of investment through monitoring e.g., social and environmental protection responsibilities. The initiative aims to assess if mining companies operating are also complying with all legal laws and guiding principles that are duly applicable to the host country and international standard in relation to the mining project. To this end, IRMA legal compliance monitoring tools complements well with our institutional framework such as Section 73 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe on Environmental rights, which guarantees right to clean environment, to participate and timely dissemination of information on projects plans and programmes significant to environmental implications.

 Further, IRMA takes oversight role on promoting and protecting rights of communities in its monitoring and evaluation processes.  Case in point, it supports the implementation of existing laws such as the Constitution on section (13) 4 state that, the state must ensure that local communities benefit from the resources, and it resonates well with the concept of IRMA standards. As such business integrity, planning and managing for positive legacies, social and environmental responsibility. Lastly, the standard for responsible mining stands to benefit mining companies on compliance to state requirements if it joins the initiatives as it aligns IRMA principles to National investment standards. For instance, IRMA puts emphasis on investors and mining companies to take on to practice “responsible mining and investments” standards corresponding to ideologies of Zimbabwe Investment and development Agency Act [Chapter 14:37] that stands to guide domestic and foreign investors on sustainable ways to invest.

Given the above information, responsible mining and sourcing can contribute substantially to social and economic development, but mining companies need to be realistic about the contribution it makes to communities and the nation. Therefore, collaborative efforts to join international standards IRMA and working with governments, communities, and development agencies are needed to ensure sustainable improvements in implementing best practice. Thus guided by fundamental principles, including treating the citizens with respect; communicating in a transparent manner; and working to create sustained value for all stakeholders.

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