Ethical Performance
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Small-scale mining needs sustainability focus too

April 2013

A sustainability research body has started a campaign to raise awareness of artisanal and small-scale mining and to ensure that the industry improves lives and safeguards local environments.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) aims to connect stakeholders, including miners and their communities, with one another, and to generate better-quality information to be used in policy-making at local, corporate, national and international levels.

Its research points out that artisanal and small-scale mining – found in Ghana, Madagascar and Peru, for example – produces about 85% of all gemstones and 20%-25% of all gold.

The industry provides jobs for between 20 million and 30 million of the world’s poorest people and supports the livelihoods of five times that number. It has ten times as many employees as large-scale mining but the workings are often in remote areas, says the research.

The sector usually involves poor and vulnerable people, including women and children, and is notorious for severe pollution and harsh conditions.

Yet development agencies and national authorities give it little attention and fail to consider how to make it sustainable, complains the IIED.

The researchers say: “Governments’ policies are often poorly designed or implemented, or even repressive. The miners themselves lack access to the rights, financial services, market information and technology they need to make this a prosperous activity with reduced environmental impacts.

“As a result, many are often driven to operate illegally – and it is this illegality that has biased attitudes about the whole artisanal and small-scale mining sector.”

They say donors, too, ignore the sector and regard small-scale agriculture and forestry as more positive livelihoods for poor people.

IIED researcher Abbi Buxton insists: “This neglect has to end, particularly as the demand for mineral resources continues to grow.”

Senior researcher Sarah Best emphasises: “Small-scale and artisanal mines can be a force for good just as small-scale forestry and agriculture are, but right now they operate in a hidden world.  

“We want to identify ways to overcome the challenges, in information, investment and institutions, that prevent small-scale mining from realising its potential to contribute to sustainable development.”

The IIED ran a project in 2000-02 to gather evidence about the sector and to involve stakeholders in determining how it can add to global sustainability.

The new report examines the underlying challenges to achieving progress in the next ten years.

While spreading information about the sector the IIED will seek practical solutions to problems such as child labour, health hazards, human rights, pollution and supply chain transparency. 

International Institute for Environment and Development | Global | Sustainable Mining

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