Workshop on interoperability of sustainability standards in Bonn, Germany

GIZ photo

An increasing number of social and environmental sustainability standards in the mining sector risk duplication, undermining their effectiveness and increasing costs of compliance. A two-day workshop was held in Bonn, Germany in March 2017 to address the issue, titled “From Harmonisation to Interoperability: Streamlining Sustainability Initiatives for Responsible Mining”. The event was jointly organised by GIZ’s (German Technical Cooperation Agency) Extractives and Development Program and CSRM’s Governance and Development Program. 

Research findings of the GIZ-funded project were presented by CSRM’s Dr Kathryn Sturman, Dr Renzo Mori Junior and Phd candidate Jean-Pierre Imbrogiano. The concept of ‘interoperability’ was introduced as an indicator of “the degree to which diverse systems, organisations and individuals are able to work together to achieve a common goal” (Ide & Pustejovsky, 2010). Related terms of collaboration, harmonisation and cross-recognition were explained in the context of mineral sustainability standards. An overview was presented mapping a sample of 18 sustainability initiatives in terms of their overlapping thematic scope, cross-referencing and similarities in assurance process and non-compliance procedures. Case studies were examined in greater detail.

The first case study considered the potential for greater interoperability between the Extractive Industries Transparency Initative (EITI) and the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) Regional Initiative against Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources. As a good example of interoperability, the cooperation between Fairmined and the Responsible Jewellery Council was highlighted in the second case study. These initiatives work closely together, support each other, for instance in feeding Fairmined gold into supply chains, and jointly address the needs of artisanal small-scale and large-scale mining. The case for commodity-specific sustainability standards was discussed in the third study of bauxite/ aluminium production and supply chains. The approach taken by the ISEAL Alliance to unifying the sustainability standards movement in agricultural, forestry, mineral and other sectors was explained by ISEAL’s Policy and Outreach Manager, Joshua Wickerham.

Participants included practitioners from international organisations, including the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative, the EITI, Fairmined, Fairtrade, IRMA, ISEAL, the Institute of Human Rights and Business, the RJC and Transparency International. Representatives from the German government, automobile industry, civil society and academia contributed their perspectives. Discussions reflected on the diversity and, at times, incongruity of sustainability initiatives, as well as on competitive relations between them. Several of the initiatives represented expressed appreciation for the opportunity to meet and discuss issues of commonality in a workshop environment. Industry representatives pointed out that the high number of sustainability initiatives is an obstacle to compliance, and that upstream and downstream stakeholders should be brought together under one initiative wherever possible. It is important to companies that requests, audits, and reports be handled in the same manner. Financial concerns were raised, for instance how civil society and industry initiatives are affecting the public sector’s engagement for sustainability in supply chains.

The participants commended the constructive atmosphere that facilitated the discussion of potentially controversial issues, as well as the diversity of stakeholders engaged in finding solutions to interoperability challenges. The final report of the research project is to be finalised by the end of May 2017 and will make recommendations to enhance the interoperability of selected sustainability initiatives and identify areas for further research. A further opportunity for research dissemination will be at the ISEAL Annual Conference in Zurich in June 2017.

Authors: Leopold von Carlowitz, Gregor Lamersdorf and Kathryn Sturman

(Translated and edited by Jean-Pierre Imbrogiano) 

Friday, May 05, 2017

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