SQM ups ESG agenda with Standard for Responsible Mining audit

(Image courtesy of SQM)

SQM, (NYSE: SQM), the world’s second-largest lithium miner, announced Wednesday the beginning of a third-party audit against the world’s most rigorous standard of best practices in environmental and social responsibility at industrial scale mines: the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)’s Standard for Responsible Mining.

According to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report published in 2020, IRMA ‘is the only mine-site focused multi-stakeholder standard for industrial scale mining that offers independent external verification and certification, that requires corrective actions and continuous improvement, SQM said in the media statement.

IRMA is also the only mine-site standard that requires community engagement in all steps of the process, which the company said is an aspect of focus. The IRMA standard has the most robust criteria related to ‘fair labour and terms of work, occupational health and safety, and community health and safety.’

By beginning a publicly-noticed independent third party audit, SQM can participate as a Member in the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) scheme. An audit report will also be shared publicly upon completion, allowing reviewers to understand both strengths and challenges at the operation, and will guide improvements, the company said.

In the summer of 2021, Indigenous communities living around Chile’s Atacama salt flat asked authorities to suspend SQM’s operating permits or sharply reduce its operations until it submits an environmental compliance plan acceptable to regulators.

Chile’s SMA environmental regulator in 2016 charged SQM with overdrawing lithium-rich brine from the Salar de Atacama salt flat, prompting the company to develop a $25 million plan to bring its operations back into compliance.

This membership is part of the company’s process of working to a high standard of transparency and public accountability in its corporate objectives on environmental matters, sustainable operations, and social responsibility, it said.

Late last year, SQM also announced it is participating in the UN’s Race To Zero program, and trialling Chile’s first high-tonnage electric truck to be used in low-emission mining operations.

“This is a step forward for SQM in our ongoing efforts to continue to lead the industry in terms of sustainability commitments and public reportability of our ESG objectives,” SQM’s CEO Ricardo Ramos said in a release.

“SQM’s IRMA membership represents the newest development in a slew of green initiatives, but we are not stopping here. Our aim is to achieve the IRMA Transparency Level by 2022 and IRMA 50 by 2025 and we are firmly optimistic that we can make the changes necessary to meet these carefully considered goals,” Ramos said.

“This is an exciting time for SQM as we continue to explore innovative ways to make our lithium production more environmentally friendly while listening and supporting our local communities.”

(With files from Reuters)