Frequently Asked Questions

About ARM and our work with miners

What kind of miners does ARM work with?
The scope of the work only covers artisanal and small-scale miners and not medium or large-scale industrial mining. This is where Fairmined Certification can have the most impact. Other initiatives support improvements in medium- and large-scale mining, such as the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) or the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA).
I have questions I would like to ask the miners. Can I get in touch with them?
Yes, we are happy to establish a direct contact between you and the miners, but remember to contact us in good time to make the arrangements. Not all miners have access to the internet, and they can be hard to reach by phone as most miners work underground or in other remote areas where there is little or no telephone coverage. Furthermore, the miners speak their native language and rarely others. If you want to interview and/or visit a miner in Latin America for example you should speak Spanish or provide a translator.
Can I go visit a certified mining community?
Yes. Get in touch with us and we will help you plan it. Contact us in good time as the planning takes time and some mining communities have special schedules for visits. The miners are happy to show you their communities but remember that in order to receive you, some of them have to take the day off from the work in the mine which affects the gold production and their work schedules. Furthermore you have to take into account language differences.
ARM advocates for gradual reduction in mercury use. Would it not be better to ban mercury use worldwide?
No.  The mercury issue is not only an environmental problem. The mitigation, reduction and elimination of mercury in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in the world are a complicated subject that requires global coordination and an agreement to act from many different parties. The exclusive focus on prohibition produces undesirable effects, most notably the increased marginalization of mining communities and negative impacts on health and environment. Instantly banning the use of mercury would only foment a black market and make matters even worse.

For the vast majority of the fifteen million people that depend on gold mining for their livelihood, mercury is a technology that is available and accessible. The gradual elimination of mercury in ASM will require holistic strategies, which include:

  • Determining where mercury is used and taking measures to educate the miners and the communities about its impacts and best practices.
  • Mitigating risk of mercury contamination to people and ecosystems by promoting concentration and the use of retorts.
  • Incorporating alternative technologies that can be easily and efficiently adopted by artisanal miners.
  • Creating financial and credit systems which will allow miners to access funding for technological advance.
  • Facilitating access to new markets in order to create incentives for formalization and the progressive elimination of mercury use.

Miners feel the damages of mercury on their own bodies, environment, communities, and are willing to make changes in their methods when they have the possibility to do so. In order for these changes to become reality, it is necessary to legalize and recognize ASM activity and to assure technology transfer and capacity building, as well as access to infrastructure and basic support services.

ARM advocates for gradual reduction in mercury use. Would it not be better to ban mercury use worldwide?
No.  The mercury issue is not only an environmental problem. The mitigation, reduction and elimination of mercury in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in the world are a complicated subject that requires global coordination and an agreement to act from many different parties. The exclusive focus on prohibition produces undesirable effects, most notably the increased marginalization of mining communities and negative impacts on health and environment. Instantly banning the use of mercury would only foment a black market and make matters even worse.

For the vast majority of the fifteen million people that depend on gold mining for their livelihood, mercury is a technology that is available and accessible. The gradual elimination of mercury in ASM will require holistic strategies, which include:

  • Determining where mercury is used and taking measures to educate the miners and the communities about its impacts and best practices.
  • Mitigating risk of mercury contamination to people and ecosystems by promoting concentration and the use of retorts.
  • Incorporating alternative technologies that can be easily and efficiently adopted by artisanal miners.
  • Creating financial and credit systems which will allow miners to access funding for technological advance.
  • Facilitating access to new markets in order to create incentives for formalization and the progressive elimination of mercury use.

Miners feel the damages of mercury on their own bodies, environment, communities, and are willing to make changes in their methods when they have the possibility to do so. In order for these changes to become reality, it is necessary to legalize and recognize ASM activity and to assure technology transfer and capacity building, as well as access to infrastructure and basic support services.

How do I join ARM’s network for responsible mining?
We are currently working on a more formal membership scheme for all interested parties. To receive updates and news from us contact us and we will add you to our email list. When our membership system is in place we will then inform you.
Can I participate in one of ARMs workshops?
Everyone who wishes to participate in our workshops is very welcome. Unfortunately we cannot provide financial support to everyone.
I am looking for someone to finance projects in my mining community. Will ARM provide economical support or pre-financing? Or will ARM cover the costs related to my Fairmined Certification?
We do not directly fund projects, provide pre-financing or cover costs of Fairmined Certification. All our projects are funded by external funders or partnerships with other organizations. We engage in projects with a wide range of partners (companies, governments, organizations) that wish to support miners in formalizing and getting Fairmined certified.

About artisanal and small scale mining

How do artisanal and small-scale miners use chemicals to extract gold?
Mining methods vary according to geology of the area. The gold found in riverbeds is easier to extract from the surface without chemicals using just basic tools, river terraces, or digging pits. Hard-rock mining underground extracts ore which is processed on the surface to extract the gold. Most commonly, it is mixed with mercury, which captures the gold to form a mixture known as amalgam. The amalgam is then heated which evaporates the mercury, leaving residual gold and other metals.

Some small-scale miners use cyanide as an alternative to mercury. Cyanide leaches the gold from the crushed ore, dissolving it in the water. As this process requires substantial investment, special training, a longer processing time, and significant financial capacity, it is less widely used by ASM miners. However when used properly, cyanide enables miners to eliminate mercury completely and increase gold recovery rates.

What is the impact of chemicals used in mining?
The environmental impacts of ASM depend on where it occurs, but can include deforestation, land degradation through air, water and soil pollution from dust, mud or toxic substances, as well as impact on local wildlife. By working with the mining organizations before certification, it is possible to drastically reduce these impacts with the proper support and incentives. ASM is not significantly dirtier per unit of output than other mining activities, and since ASM processes much less ore than large-scale mining per ounce of gold, the magnitude of its impact on the land is much smaller.
Would it not be better if the miners stopped mining and found another way of life?
If artisanal and small-scale mining is carried out in a responsible manner, it can be both socially and environmentally sustainable. Most artisanal and small-scale miners have no available alternatives. Mining, which is extremely hard work, provides their only possible income and is their best option to make a living. Furthermore, ASM has great potential to create sustainable economic development in communities otherwise often trapped in poverty.

FAQ’s for volunteers

Does ARM provide paid internships?
No, all internships and volunteer positions are unpaid.
Does ARM cover any expenses related to my stay?
No, all travel, insurance and living expenses are paid by the volunteer. We will however arrange and pay for your taxi ride from the airport in Medellin to your new house, if your trip is not arranged by an external agency.
How do I find a place to live during my stay?
Many volunteers find a place through www.compartoapto.com If your stay is arranged by an agency or organization, they will find a place for you either with a Colombian family or with other volunteers or students.
For how long can I volunteer, and how are the working hours?
  • Volunteers usually stay for two months or more and work around 35 hours a week.  We are flexible in regards to your schedule, so you can adopt it to other activities you want to do while you are here. We only ask that you agree on a plan with the person you will be working with, and that you do your work here within our office hours 8am-5pm.
  • We do not have any upper limit as to how long you can stay with us. We usually do not receive volunteers for a shorter period than 2 months, as it takes time to prepare your work, and you also need time to get to know our organization. It is our experience that both you and ARM get the most out of your stay if you volunteer for at least two months.
Can I take Spanish lessons while working in ARM?
Yes. In Medellin there are various options for studying Spanish. Among them is finding a private tutor, taking lessons at the  (Black Sheep Hostel) or at the  Language center at Eafit University.
Is Colombia safe?
The places you are likely to go are safe enough as long as you use good common sense. Colombia is shaking its bad reputation and is rapidly growing as a tourist destination. In Medellin and Envigado (where our office is located) you will be fine, as long as you take a few precautions such as not walking alone late at night, not flashing your valuables such as your camera and cellphone, and not carry around too much money.  There are still some areas of the country you will want to avoid. Before leaving the city you should check the safety situation.
Are there other ways to volunteer in ARM besides working in your office in Colombia?
Yes, sometimes we have people working from afar or on one of our field projects. The options depend on the work needed and your qualifications. Contact us to find out if it is an option for you.

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