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IndustriALL heralds new IRMA head

4 April, 2013IndustriALL Global Union is pleased to welcome Matthew Wenban-Smith as new Managing Director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA). The appointment marks an important milestone in establishing IRMA as the first legitimate global certification programme in the mining sector.

The success of IRMA is a key priority for IndustriALL’s mining sectoral activities, as well as for social partners and companies who have worked together for six years to establish the multi-stakeholder dialogue charged with achieving responsible mining. IRMA stands to be the first international certification procedure to include proper worker participation and therefore potentially the first to award reliable certifications on mines with high social and environmental performance.

Pre-existing certification bodies in the sector have long been criticized by trade unions for lacking credibility. When a certification body is set up and run by the companies themselves it is not surprising when irresponsible employers that abuse workers and the environment are still awarded certificates of good practice.

This corrupt practice was vividly shown to the world during the Rio Tinto scandal of 2012, whereby the company supplied the metal for the medals at the London Olympics despite Rio Tinto being renowned for its long history of contempt for labour rights, environmental destruction (including in the communities that sourced the metals that went into the medals), and general opposition to anything that could be defined as sustainable.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), an organization of companies in the industry and including Rio Tinto as a founding member, awarded certification to Rio Tinto on 13 July, attesting to the company’s highest ethical, social, and environmental standards. It was the first certification given to a mining company, and was just days before the start of the London Olympics, where pressure was building against Rio Tinto’s role in providing the metals for the athletes’ medals. 

The RJC clearly rushed through the process and conveniently made Rio Tinto the first mining company to receive this recognition. The RJC lost all credibility through this action. 

Jon Samuel, of mining company Anglo American, on IRMA’s Steering Committee, marked the new appointment:

Matthew has worked with other certification programs that have successfully travelled the same paths currently in front of IRMA. He is therefore extremely well placed to help IRMA develop an effective approach that meets the expectations of the key stakeholder groups participating in IRMA.

Fellow IRMA Steering Committee member Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL’s Director for the mining industry stated, 

Organized labour leaders are working for a new economic and social model that puts people first, based on democracy and social justice. It is exciting to bring on a new leader to IRMA who can help us realize that goal.