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As Standards Australia convenes the second workshop around an International Workshop Agreement (IWA 45) for sustainable critical minerals supply chains, the signed US and EU civil society organizations (CSOs) are calling on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to raise the bar to ensure proposed mineral supply chain standards and related processes protect rights-holders and lock-in best practices, rather than protect business interests at the expense of rights-holders.

For decades, the mining, processing, and manufacturing industries in mineral and fossil fuel supply chains have disproportionately operated under voluntary, industry-led standards and schemes. These initiatives have been repeatedly and rightly criticized by affected communities and civil society organizations as enabling business as usual rather than protecting people and the planet.

The energy transition is critical. It must also be just, fair, and truly sustainable.

Mandatory legal frameworks, accompanied by strong enforcement capacity, remain the best mechanism to ensure that mineral supply chains do not harm Indigenous Peoples and lands, communities, workers and the environment.

Because ISO standards are non-binding, they should not and cannot replace the need for strong laws and requirements on companies to respect human rights. However, there are fundamental criteria that standards must include to be credible and effective at protecting people and the planet.

The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) contains these elements and more, which is why there is broad consensus within civil society that IRMA is the strongest mining standard and should serve as the baseline for any global guideline on critical mineral supply chains.

We therefore urge ISO and standardizers to consider the following principles in the development of the IWA:

  • Require the supply chain standard to have equal and shared governance with affected rights holders and civil society organizations. Effective and credible equal governance requires the full participation and decision-making power of rights-holders, their representatives, and civil society organizations. Proactive measures are crucial to avoid the risk of co-option or capture of non-industry groups, and to ensure that independent nongovernmental organizations are not replaced by groups effectively representing industry interests, such as international financial institutions, trade associations, or nongovernmental organizations that are funded or sponsored by mining companies. Equal and shared co-governance establishes the foundation necessary to work towards a comprehensive standard, a rigorous audit methodology that supports effective participation in the audit process from Indigenous peoples, affected communities and workers, and public and detailed audit reports. Any scheme that does not provide guarantees for this will always be at risk of industry capture and greenwashing.  
  • Require the explicit, full protection of Indigenous Peoples and their rights, including the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). Violations of Indigenous rights are a constant, high-risk human rights concern in mineral, raw materials and other extractive supply chains, yet many mining companies lack adequate due diligence policies, processes, or commitments for preventing or addressing abuses. Indigenous Peoples are at increased and disproportionate risk in the energy transition: globally, more than half of minerals are located underneath or near Indigenous territories. Standards must require and in no case contravene explicit and full protections and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including their right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC), as defined under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Proposals to require ‘consultation’ do not meet this standard and are neither legitimate, credible, nor capable of upholding the state and corporate responsibilities to respect and uphold these rights.
  • Require human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD) aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct. Traditional industry due diligence and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) frameworks do not constitute human rights due diligence. HREDD is an ongoing, iterative process that centers potential and actual adverse impacts to rights-holders from business activities in the processes of risk identification, assessment, mitigation, management, and harm remediation. It includes rights-holders throughout the process, therefore addressing the most salient risks, and the information is used by companies to shape their management systems accordingly. In contrast, traditional industry due diligence emphasizes financial, legal, and reputational risks that would affect company profitability. On the rare occasion when industry considers human rights, it typically only focuses on one part and may not be equally weighted with these other factors. ESG frameworks emphasize easily quantifiable, select social measures that incentivize companies to pick and choose metrics where their systems are most capable of achieving, rather than addressing the most salient human rights risk and impacts from operations.
  • Bolster the integrity of auditing and accreditation schemes by requiring shared governance, transparency, and participation safeguards. Audits and certification schemes cannot guarantee a company’s respect for human rights, or environmental performance. When assurance schemes are governed by diverse stakeholders, and include independent, publicly available, third-party auditing, they can serve as a useful, but not the sole, tool for downstream companies, policy makers and investors by providing credible data points regarding the performance of a company, project or facility at any given time. ISO standards must require that any audits or certification schemes have equal and shared governance with CSOs and affected rights-holders, that the results of the audit be transparent and that rights-holders be included in the process. 
  • Set strong environmental standards and a lifecycle approach to facility environmental management. To ensure maximum environmental benefits and minimal environmental harm within critical minerals supply chains, ISO should, at a minimum, require the same standards set out by IRMA, which include full lifecycle assessment and responsible management of tailings waste, mine reclamation and closure. ISO can also provide guidance to  reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the critical minerals supply chain by requiring users to make binding, time-bound commitments to phase out of fossil-fuel energies during smelting and refining, transition to renewable energy, use zero-carbon chemicals during processing, and report on their Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Robust monitoring of biodiversity loss and requiring net- positive solutions are also a must.
  • Standardize and embed minerals circularity as a requirement for sustainable mineral supply chains. Circularity is a win-win-win solution for communities, industry, and the planet. It supports resilient supply chains by prioritizing reused, repaired, refurbished, or recycled products; maximizes environmental benefits through the use of full lifecycle cost methodologies; and upholds human rights by reducing the demand for new mines and therefore the harms associated with mining. Strong circular design requirements should ensure durability, reusability, and repairability of equipment and components that contain critical raw materials (CRMs). These will ultimately contribute to extending product lifetime and keeping CRMs longer in use. These requirements have to be supported by horizontal standards which aim at assessing the performance and durability of CRM containing products, components and equipment, but also technical specifications to facilitate repair, reuse and recycling of CRM containing products, components and equipment. More specifically, standards should provide clear labeling of CRMs in products and the declaration of CRM content to ease its recovery, set clear and robust definitions for the use of recycled content, better define rules for environmental footprint, as well as minimum design requirements to ease disassembly, and finally, ensure a high-quality recycling. Horizontal standards will ideally be complemented by more detailed product- or material-specific standards.