Artisanal or small-scale mining practices provide income to millions of the world’s poorest people. A lack of knowledge, policy, and regulation in the industry means that most small-scale miners operate illegally and without organization or oversight. A recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) aims to shed some light on the issues of small-scale and artisanal mining.
Much small-scale mining takes place in remote areas with poor living and working conditions. It is known for its severe pollutant production and subjection of poor and marginalized workers, including women and children, to unsafe working conditions. However, since identifying areas for improvement in the industry, IIED hopes to work with policymakers to improve lives and local environmental impacts.
IIED will accomplish this by connecting miners, their families, and communities with other stakeholders, including authorities on the local, national, and international levels. The organization will gather information and data and coordinate with policymakers to foster dialogue and address challenges. The IIED believes that with greater transparency in the industry, small-scale mining can become a sustainable and safe livelihood for many.
Historically, governments and institutions have overlooked small-scale mining as an industry worth investigation, investment, or support, choosing instead to focus on large-scale mining and small-scale operations in other industries such as forestry and agriculture. Part of the reason for this is the stigma against small-scale mining as a problematic and undesirable practice. But neglecting the industry does nothing to improve its conditions. Authorities must recognize economic realities and focus on improving workers’ lives and working conditions.
The widespread practice of artisanal mining is driven in no small part by the global demand for minerals such as tin and tungsten, for use in gadgets like your smartphone. Despite the rapidly growing technology market, little progress has been made in developing sustainable mining practices over the last decade.
It is estimated that 20 to 30 million people derive the majority of their income from small-scale mining: ten times as many people as large-scale, industrial mining. The income from those 20-30 million supports an additional 100 million people. With so many people relying on these traditional practices for their livelihoods, more must be done in the sector to improve efficiency and working conditions, provide education and resources, and reduce negative environmental and health impacts.
– Kat Henrichs