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Lithium producer SQM’s operations in the Salar de Atacama salt flat have achieved IRMA certification

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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.

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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 responsiblemining.net.

“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.


Source: IRMA

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