Creating a Force For Good to Support Artisanal Miners

Artisanal mining is a vital source of income for millions of people across the world. Everyone in the industry, alongside governments and the civil society, has a responsibility to help improve conditions for miners in this sector, according to leading jewelry industry players

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A panel of experts has agreed on the need to improve conditions for the millions of people throughout the world working in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector (ASM). “All That Glitters” was a virtual event hosted by Initiatives in Arts and Culture (IAC), and brought together a number of leading voices from the jewelry and mining industries.

Lisa Koenigsberg

According to Lisa Koenigberg, the IAC president: “It was our goal to focus on the need for responsible practice throughout the mining industry and, in particular, to position ASM within that larger context while ensuring that attention was paid to diamonds in addition to gold and colored stones.”

The webinar was moderated by Christina Miller, a consultant and co-founder of Ethical Metalsmiths, a non-profit that seeks to increase responsibility in the jewelry sector. Panellists included, among others: Cristina Villegas, Director of the Mines to Markets Program for the international non-profit organisation Pact; Feriel Zerouki, Senior VP of Corporate Affairs at De Beers Group, and Conny Havel, Head of Supply Chains at the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM).

Cristina Villegas

There was agreement among the panel that, although there are huge challenges to be faced, ignoring the issues associated with the ASM sector is not an option. ASM exists within all types of commodities mined, such as tin, through to gold and gemstones. There are many push and pull factors for the members of the artisanal mining sector: miners can be seasonal farm workers earning extra money during the dry season; they can be migrants displaced by conflicts or climate shocks; or even micro-entrepreneurs who see the sector as a source of a viable livelihood.

Conditions within ASM mines can vary hugely. Small, shallow mines do not benefit from the same operational rigour as larger sites, so working conditions are often not sufficiently safe, and miners do not receive fair payment for the work they do.

According to the latest industry figures, almost 43 million people worldwide work in ASM across all types of mining, accounting for around 90% of all mine workers. Factoring in family dependents, the total number of people relying on the sector is around 150 million. It provides much-needed income in some of the most deprived parts of the world.

“The artisanal mining sector is part of the industry, as well as the only source of income for millions of people, so it is important to ensure that it is not left behind,” said Feriel Zerouki from De Beers Group.

“There are many challenges, but equally huge opportunities to deliver meaningful progress when it comes to livelihoods and working conditions for artisanal miners.”

Ferial Zerouki

ASM mining for diamonds is much less common than in other sectors, owing to a number of factors, most notably that the depth of kimberlite pipes where most diamonds are discovered are out of reach of artisanal miners. Nevertheless, ASM represents between 15% and 20% of the sector by volume – less than 10% by value – and employs almost 1.5 million people, according to the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI), a not-for-profit organisation created to help formalise the sector. Ensuring safety and fairness at every level of diamond mining is imperative, and the DDI’s mission is to make sure that ASM miners are well-treated, and to ensure that mines do not employ children or operate in conflict zones.

“De Beers Group launched GemFair with the aim of creating a secure, transparent route to market for ethically sourced artisanal and small-scale mined diamonds to help foster the sector’s development as a credible and trusted source of diamond supply.”

GemFair is an ASM sourcing programme created by De Beers Group to source ethical ASM diamonds and provide a secure route to market using digital innovation. GemFair supports ASM miners by encouraging them to abide by safe and ethical working practices and has developed a responsible sourcing model based directly on the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains, De Beers Group’s Best Practice Principles and other best practice sourcing standards for the ASM sector. GemFair has developed a digital solution, which includes a bespoke app, a tablet, and a diamond toolkit with QR-coded tamper-proof bags. This helps educate the miners about how to achieve a fair price for their diamonds and it allows for traceability of ASM diamonds from mine to market. GemFair is initially working in Sierra Leone – a country that has already made great strides in formalising the ASM sector – with aspirations to expand to other countries.

Zerouki added: “De Beers Group launched GemFair with the aim of creating a secure, transparent route to market for ethically sourced artisanal and small-scale mined diamonds to help foster the sector’s development as a credible and trusted source of diamond supply. By providing artisanal and small-scale miners with access to De Beers’ industry-leading distribution channel, offering fair prices and working with NGOs to improve standards, we hope GemFair can continue to play a key role in uplifting the artisanal sector.”

GemFair is also launching a programme to reclaim mined areas once an operation has ended. The project will work with miners to select workers to backfill old mining areas, and determine with community leaders the best use for the land, whether it is reseeded, returned to jungle, or used for agricultural land or housing, according to the needs of the local area.

The diamond industry has long understood the need to work with the informal sector. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), the body that represents the Belgian diamond industry, has for years been working with ASM miners. The My Fair Diamond project, began in 2015, brought out a range of jewellery made with Mandeleo Diamond Standards certified diamonds sourced from ASM mines in Sierra Leone.

The AWDC has now set itself the ambitious target of creating a fully traceable supply chain of ethical ASM-mined diamonds from the Republic of Guinea in West Africa. It has been assisting in local development projects and working with local NGOs assisting to help maintain standards with the mines. The aim is to produce a steady source of MDS-compliant, artisanally mined diamonds that will be available to the trade in Antwerp.

Christina Miller

While the ASM sector is relatively small within diamonds, the diamond industry is paying close attention to how other forms of mining are addressing the issue. Coloured gemstones, such as sapphires and amethysts, are the vast majority of the time mined by artisanal and small-scale miners. Cristina Villegas from Pact co-created Moyo Gems, a program working with female artisanal gemstone miners in Tanzania.

“Coloured gems are generally much closer to the surface than diamonds, so ASM is a much higher percentage, between 80 and 90 per cent of the market,” Villegas said. The ASM sector provides a lifeline to millions of families and the approach should be the same whatever is being mined. We need to create partnerships to encourage miners to meet safety standards and make it in everyone’s financial interests to ensure good working practices and uphold ethical standards.”

The mining industry as a whole is beginning to make an impact on ASM, but there is a lot more to be done and engagement is key, according to Conny Havel from ARM. “ASM is now very much on the agenda and more people are talking about it, but of course very big challenges remain,” she said.

Conny Havel

She added: “Many companies avoid engaging with ASM because sourcing from this sector is more costly and challenging. But engagement is the most important thing to drive positive change and we invite the industry to campaign even more for the inclusion of the artisanal and small-scale miners and support this sector on a global scale.”

Everyone on the panel agreed that engagement across the industry with long-lasting local partnerships is key to making sure that ASM miners can work in safe conditions and receive pay that reflects the value of their work.