“ArcelorMittal Belgium was the first part of the company to go through the ResponsibleSteel audit process, for site certification. We were also a test case for ResponsibleSteel, being the first site to go through their site certification process. So, all in all, this was a tremendous opportunity while also being quite daunting.

We began by putting together an internal team of people who would lead and coordinate the assessment and audit. This consisted of seven process owners (compliance and risk officer, integrated  management systems – progress academy, health and safety, human resources management, energy and environment, and stakeholder management including internal and external communications), as well as one global cluster coordinator and three local, site coordinators.

Quite a few of us had direct experience of audits for ISO purposes, but this was a very different kind of audit – the focus of the audit is on our relationship as a business with the outside world, on external stakeholders such as local elected representatives, public inspection authorities, industry associations, NGOs, as well as our customers, suppliers and employees. This meant the audit team had to be knowledgeable about social and environmental aspects of the business.

The next step was to create an internal gap analysis, with the support of experts within six main processes:  strategy (including governance, compliance and risk management); people development and employee experience; continuous improvement; environment, energy & CSR; sourcing of products and services; and occupational health and safety. These experts helped to identify where we thought we had potential weaknesses in each of ResponsibleSteel’s 12 principles that are used as the basis for the assessment. 

Once we were happy with the internal gap analysis which took during about three weeks of intensive work, and we had held a two-day review with the internal corporate team overseeing ResponsibleSteel certifications, we were ready for the stage one audit.

The AFNOR Certification team conducted the initial, one day-audit, followed by stage two, which was a longer, one-week audit, with visits to all sites within the ArcelorMittal Belgium Cluster.  This included the auditor conducting interviews with many of our external stakeholders and employees, to gauge people’s perceptions of the business and how it operates. In our case there were about 14 hours of interviews with shop floor workers, and about eight hours of interviews with external stakeholders, such as the City of Gent, NGOs, unions, inspection institutes and suppliers. An observer from ResponsibleSteel was also present. Being the first business in the world to go through the audit, we had questions about some of the requirements or criteria, where we felt that there was room for interpretation – and we were able to clarify most of these points during the stage-two audit.

After each audit, the auditor provided a report listing all our minor non-conformities, OFIs (opportunities for improvement) and ‘strong points’. This stage generated quite a lot of work for the team, as we have to provide root cause analysis and proposals of corrective action plans for every non-conformity to the auditor. We had a month to put together our corrective action plans, and were almost ready to most to the next step of the process, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and we had to put the project on hold.

Seven months later, we managed to complete this step, which included an additional assessment by the AFNOR auditor and the Responsible Steel expert on our response to Covid-19, specifically the measures put in place to protect the health and safety of all our employees and everyone present on site (seen from the perspective of the Responsible Steel requirements).

The auditor was satisfied with our proposed action plans, and then prepared a final audit report that was submitted to the ResponsibleSteel assurance panel, for final checking. 

A surveillance audit takes place around 18 months after certification is received, to check if the non-conformity gaps have been closed in line with the proposed actions plans and if the site continues to meet the requirements of the Responsible Steel Standard.

We have all learned a lot during the ResponsibleSteel audit process.

As a team we’re incredibly proud of ArcelorMittal Belgium’s achievement, and we are more aware and appreciative of the importance of listening to the diverse group of stakeholders that we have, to make sure that as a business we manage social topics with the same systematic rigour with which quality, environment and safety topics are handled.”

Hanna Piorkowska, Support Manager Site Management, ArcelorMittal Belgium