April 2015    Print this article

Mining certification: a tool for social acceptability

Louis Bienvenu, Eng.
Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles

Social acceptability is an essential component of sustainable development and all mining development. It is in fact a key factor of any mining project success.   

But how should we define social acceptability? At which point has a mining project achieved it? What percentage of the population does it take to conclude that a project is socially acceptable? And should social acceptability be restricted to those who live in the immediate vicinity of the project?

In order to answer these questions and provide a better framework for the social acceptance of natural resource projects, the Government of Québec announced the start of a major initiative on November 18, 2014. The goal is to improve the way in which community expectations and interests are taken into account when planning and carrying out projects.

Some groups believe that a transparent and independent mining certification process could be an important tool to achieving social acceptability. While it is true that mining certification alone will not satisfy everyone, it would be a big step toward ensuring that mining operations are carried out in harmony with their surroundings and with the fewest possible inconveniences to residents.

Around the world

Kimberley Process – blood diamonds

Blood diamonds are African diamonds that are used to finance wars led by government rebels. Extracted from mines controlled by the rebels, these diamonds are illegally and clandestinely sold to buy arms and munitions for the rebel groups.

The Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme for raw diamonds that aims to control imports and exports. Producing countries must oversee the production and transport of raw diamonds from the mine to the point of export. Each shipment of raw diamonds must be sealed in a tamper-resistant container accompanied by a Kimberley Process Certificate guaranteeing that the diamonds were mined responsibly. Canada has signed the agreement.

Africa – conflict minerals

This is another case of fighting the illicit trade of certain minerals ¾ known as conflict minerals ¾ that are used to finance armed groups in Central Africa. Gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten have been linked to the financing of regional armed conflicts and civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighbouring countries. For this reason, 11 countries in the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa adopted a mineral certification project. The process centres on six instruments that identify mines controlled exclusively by civilians and verify all stages of the industry, from extraction through every level of sale (domestic and international). The certification attests that the exporters are operating within a legal framework.

The Dodd-Frank Act (United States) requires all publicly traded countries to disclose the origin of certain raw materials contained in their products (or used in their manufacture), and to document them in a specific way. Among the cited minerals are tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mined in the Congo and the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa.

Fairtrade certification – gold

The Max Havelaar Foundation (Switzerland) launched a fair trade brand (“Fairtrade Gold”) for gold produced from artisanal and small-scale mining operations. The aim is to combat the questionable and hazardous working conditions the miners are often subject to.

Fairtrade certification stipulates that measures must be taken to protect the miners’ health and prevent accidents. Certified organizations must comply with the environmental legislation of their countries, and the use of chemical products to extract gold is subject to clearly stated rules. In Fairtrade mines, abusive child labour and forced labour, as well as any form of discrimination, are prohibited. Fairtrade-certified mines receive a guaranteed minimum price and a premium of $2,000 per kilogram of gold. The additional revenue from the premium is used to improve medical facilities and schools, among other things.


The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) was founded in 2006 by a coalition of nongovernment organizations (NGOs), businesses purchasing minerals and metals for resale in other products, affected communities, mining companies and trade unions. In July 2014, the IRMA Group sought feedback from the public on its draft of standards for responsible mining. The project proposes a set of principles to improve social and environmental performance in the mining industry.

The aim is to develop an international standard on labour rights, human rights, community engagement, pollution control, the rights of indigenous peoples and site closure. IRMA’s mission is to establish a worldwide quality assurance system for responsible mining.

According to some observers, IRMA is one of the few mining certification initiatives entirely developed and directed by a multi-stakeholder group. IRMA is also one of the only voluntary certification initiatives for the mining industry that aims to develop an integrative approach by including traceability standards in its medium-term targets.

The comment period ended in November 2014, and IRMA expects to begin certifying mine sites in 2015.

In Québec

UQAT-UQAM Partnership

The UQAT-UQAM Chair in Mining Entrepreneurship is working on a certification standard project specific to mineral exploration. The main objectives of the certification are to ensure best industry practices regarding responsible exploration and to make companies more competitive within a framework of sustainable development.

The Chair is also developing a social risk index for the Autorité des marchés financiers, the province’s financial market regulator. The index comprises a set of indicators that could help companies determine at which point their advanced exploration projects are socially acceptable. The researchers will analyze different models of the social risks posed by mining projects from the perspective of various social groups and stakeholders. This will identify the elements of social risk for such projects, as well as the most significant indicators associated with each of these components. They can then develop a tool to measure the social risk of a mining project (the index), at which point the tool can be tested and distributed.

Mining Association of Québec

Québec’s mining companies have also set their sights on strategies to help gain social acceptance for mining projects, and to show citizens that current operations keep environmental impacts to a minimum. For this reason, members of Québec’s mining association (Association minière du Québec: AMQ) recently joined the BNQ21000 initiative with the aim of supporting and facilitating the implementation and application of the principles set forth in the province’s Sustainable Development Act.

In 2014, the AMQ also joined the Mining Association of Canada’s (MAC) continuous improvement process known as “Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM).” This commitment to responsible mining comprises six protocols (23 indicators) that members must implement and report on annually. Each facility’s results are externally verified every three years.

Mineral Exploration Association of Québec

Québec’s association of mineral exploration companies (Association de l’exploration minière du Québec: AEMQ) supports and promotes a guide developed by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. This guide for environmental excellence in exploration (e3) provides mineral exploration companies with information and advice to help them implement the best environmental and socio-economic practices. It is intended for both mining industry stakeholders and the general public.

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