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ILiA position statement on non-traditional lithium resources

London January 31, 2023

The International Lithium Association (ILiA) is the global body for the lithium industry, representing 50 member companies from around 20 countries. ILiA’s Core members produce around 85% of  current global lithium output and do so entirely from industrial mines that adhere to high, professional standards, such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) standard, which provide comprehensive benchmarks for what responsible mining should look like at the industrial scale. Furthermore, today the eight leading lithium producers are all publicly listed companies that adhere to internationally recognised corporate transparency and reporting standards.

Historically lithium has been produced from a small handful of industrial mines, mainly located in the USA, Australia, Chile and Argentina. While some produce lithium from rock and some produce lithium from brine, they all operate to high mining industry standards of worker health and safety, environmental responsibility, and social responsibility. National governments appreciate the benefits of industrial mineral production too, as recent statements by the Zimbabwean government have demonstrated (“Zimbabwe bans raw lithium exports to curb artisanal mining”, Reuters, December 2022).

However, ILiA recognises that as a result of the recent increase in the market price of lithium, small quantities of lithium-bearing minerals are coming to market from non-traditional sources in Africa and South America, including from artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). While there are no verifiable statistics available, it appears that current lithium production from ASM sources is less than 1% of the global market. ILiA recognises that although ASM is new to the lithium industry, it already plays a role in many other (non-lithium) raw materials markets in many countries[1].

Although we recognise that if it is responsibly managed then it can be a source of economic opportunity in places where few alternative prospects may exist, there are several serious issues of concern which should be considered and addressed by relevant stakeholders. For example, since ASM is technically simpler than industrial mining and has low capital requirements so it can quickly adapt to changes in market conditions, new entrants may be at risk of joining an industry without taking the time to fully understand the operational standards and norms of the market. For example, it is also possible they may unintentionally fail to adopt the ESG practices best suited to their intended modes of production and may inadvertently act in discordance with the expectations of downstream consumers and other stakeholders.   

ILiA is monitoring the situation and is keen to facilitate the provision of information that can sign-post national and provincial authorities in countries where there are reports of ASM of lithium-bearing minerals to a better understanding of the most suitable practices in such operations, a higher awareness of the ESG expectations of downstream consumers and other stakeholders, and an appreciation of internationally recognised codes of conduct governing responsibly-sourced minerals, supply chain traceability and sustainable development goals. 

[1] According to the World Bank, when all minerals are taken into consideration, in 2013 ASM was a source of livelihood for an estimated 100 million people in around 80 countries worldwide.  

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