The ELL Approach to ASM
Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) is “formal or informal mining operations with predominantly simplified forms of exploration, extraction, processing, and transportation. ASM is normally low capital intensive and uses high labour intensive technology. “ASM” can include men and women working on an individual basis as well as those working in family groups, in partnership, or as members of cooperatives or other types of legal associations and enterprises involving hundreds of thousands of miners.” Source: OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas, 2013, p. 65.
At ELL we are passionate about artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) and the constructive role it can play in a diverse mineral sector. We admire the artisanal miner’s strength and stamina in the face of what is typically exhausting and dangerous work. To us, ASM is a huge opportunity for building resilient futures for miners’ families, communities, nations and states. We are therefore proud to be part of a diverse community of practitioners who work to unleash the development potential that ASM offers when supported and incentivised appropriately.
Here are some revealing facts:
MINERS: Over 20 million men, women, boys, and girls around the world practice ASM as part of their livelihood strategy. This figure alone demonstrates that ASM is an opportunity to be harnessed, not a problem to be solved. In addition, ASM is especially important as a generator of employment in post-conflict states, fragile environments and societies stricken by calamity, where alternative sources of income may be few, unattractive, or out of reach. ELL has worked in post-conflict communities in Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo where former enemies work together in the mines, and the ASM has helped build peace and restore hope.
SOCIETY: The value of minerals extracted from ASM communities can amount to millions of pounds (or dollars) each year for that community. This income is largely reinvested in the local economy or remitted by migrant miners to families in distant rural communities. In rural economies where the provision of social services is largely absent and job opportunities are typically based on natural resource exploitation, farming and trading, the ripple of economic growth and opportunity that emanates from the 20 million miners’ labour is massive, lifting the lives of tens of millions of others in their communities and across borders.
MARKET: ASM are an important supplier to local construction sectors, and international jewellery, fashion and ICT / electronics sectors. Even if produced in small quantities at a mine site, taken as a whole, the minerals coming from ASM matter to the market. If all the world’s ASM went on strike tomorrow, the global economy would have 12% less gold, 15% less diamonds, 30% less tin, and 80% less coloured stones.
So, what does ELL do with these facts as we approach our work?
We very keenly understand and accept that ASM does not inherently deserve celebration or promotion. We have visited mining sites with deplorable levels of human exploitation and abuse and wanton environmental destruction. But we know it can be done differently, with the proper interventions and level of understanding. We know this because there are examples of ‘good’ ASM around the world that act as a beacon to others and demonstrate that more sustainable, professional ASM is possible. This is why we are particularly passionate to have worked with and promoted examples of good practice generated by programmes such as USAID’s Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development work in Africa (via Tetra Tech); Fairmined and Fairtrade in Latin America and Africa; the Sustainable Artisanal Mining project in Mongolia (via the Asia Foundation) .
And this is the crux: to make ASM a source of development and address its sometimes appalling social and environmental consequences takes engagement and support, and strong corporate and public leadership. There are serious structural and cultural impediments that must be tackled, not least poverty, an oversimplification of the issues, and black-and-white attitudes that depict ASM as all bad, and farming or industrial mining or indeed anything else as inevitably better. This is what ELL helps do. It’s why we’re here. To build understanding and thus opportunity for unleashing the development potential of ASM by creating clarity from this complexity, understanding from ignorance, and opportunity for change from seemingly insurmountable challenges. By doing this, we aim not only to build a better future with/for ASM and their nations, but for all of us. We are all touched by artisanal miners, and they deserve to be part of our resilient futures ; after all, some of the metals in the device you are reading this on are likely to have been mined by them.