ASM formalization is a challenge to all gold producing countries. Results vary greatly, but in general, ASM continue to be predominantly informal. One, but most definitely not the only cause for this, is the lack of accurate and timely information for miners, for authorities and for civil society as a whole. So why, if the sector has already identified this as an obstacle to formalization, do we still lack appropriate communication channels among industry actors? It would be unfair to say that efforts have not been made; governments, NGO’s and even big mining companies have devoted resources and time to make sure that the right information reaches the right people on time. These efforts, nevertheless, have been insufficient and, in my opinion, lacking in creativity.
Information channels need to be tailor-made for each target audience; miners do not use the same channels as jewelers, the government or an environmental NGO. The general public is not an expert on mining issues, therefore, technical information tends to be ignored or misunderstood. So how do we reach all actors with the right information in the right messages?
The use of information technologies is one alternative to improve communication channels for the mining sector, especially for downstream actors such as jewelers and consumers. Unfortunately, internet access is still limited for many ASM communities and only the younger generations are involved marginally in its use. In many artisanal and small-scale mining communities radio is still one of the most popular forms of communication but it is rarely used by other industry actors to inform miners. For policy purposes the challenge is just as great. Decision makers are usually not experts in mining issues and the general public tends to use social media as their main source of information on the subject. The result are ill informed policies and a demonized ASM sector which, in the eyes of the public, is the cause of all environmental and social problems.
One of the main reasons why proper information avenues have not been developed specifically for each audience is the cost. Putting in place specific strategies for each audience is costly and organizations such as ARM, that work will ALL industry actors, have to manage a complex balance between impact, cost and scope. Many times we have to choose who to service and who to leave behind, which actor to focus on and which actor to leave for others to inform properly. We do send information constantly to all actors, but not via a specific and tailor-made channels, therefore, our communication efforts are not as effective as they could be.
Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to the information challenge in ASM formalization. Instead I propose that those of us that work to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of ASM dependent families around the world, work together in 2016 to come up with better and more effective channels of communication among industry actors. It seems to me that working in isolation is costing us time, money and reputation; if it’s a matter of not having enough capacities to do it by ourselves, then it seems logical that we should come together to meet the industry’s need.
Surely an NGO, government or mining company out there has had positive experiences we can learn from. ARM has developed very interesting ideas that have worked wonderfully at the micro level. If you share our vision for ASM and face the same challenges we do, then please share your experience with us, we are more than happy to reciprocate. As active players in the mining industry we can also rely on other’s communication channels to get our message across. It is far more powerful when jewelers, industry associations, large mining companies and ASM representatives send a clear message to a government than if it’s a lonely NGO knocking on doors.
Actors can also help each other construct a message for a specific audience. Governments, for example, tend to present information for miners in a repressive and negative way, organizations like ARM can help in making the message more friendly and thus, fulfilling its purpose. In the same matter, jewelers can help academic or civil society organizations turn technical and frankly, very unattractive information, into powerful, sexy messages. In order to bypass the money and time restrain we need to become creative and engage with our fellow industry actors to maximize our communication potential.
In the meantime, ASM formalization will continue to elude us, the image of ASM will continue to deteriorate and dialogue and constructive debate between actors will continue to be marginal. As a whole, the efforts to formalize ASM by governments, companies, civil society and ASM communities will not be as effective as they could be if we, as an industry, don’t put our ducks in a row and start working with each other to properly inform about ASM.