The Alliance for Responsible Mining supports artisanal and small-scale mining in a comprehensive manner, mainly in organizational, technical, environmental and commercial aspects. The support is developed by creating action plans based on diagnostics that are carried out on-site and later analyzed within the different areas of the organization in order to achieve all requirements of the Fairmined Standard.

The countries of operation include Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Mongolia, where 8 mining organizations produce certified gold under he Fairmined Standard. Currently, these organizations receive a fair price, paid by the international market, to comply with responsible social, environmental and work-related practices for the development of the mining activity, according to legislative compliance in each country.

The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) is a global initiative that, since 2004, works to transform artisanal and small-scale mining into a socially and environmentally responsible activity that can improve the miners’ environment and quality of life. ARM’s mission is to facilitate the empowerment of artisanal and small-scale miners, their organization and the adoption of good practices as well as promoting a positive environment for their integration in the formal market and developing voluntary production and commercialization standards to support the creation of responsible supply chains.

This is made possible by focusing on different themes such as the territorial, holistic and participative aspects, as well as progressive improvement, gender and diversity issues. These aspects are tackled with support strategies for the miners and the development of a certification system and standards, with the creation of responsible supply chains and the development of markets and governance for the sustainability of artisanal and small-scale mining (ARM, 2018).

Currently there are 11 organizations artisanal and small-scale mining organizations (ASMO) that produce Fairmined certified gold: 4 in Colombia, 4 in Peru, 1 in Bolivia and 2 in Mongolia. At ARM we help the organizations achieve the certification in many different ways. We also offer post-certification support to progressively improve their mining practices and thus comply with the Fairmined Standard, which is audited by independent firms.

It’s been over 10 years since ARM started developing the Fairmined Standard, a certification for the gold produced by artisanal and small-scale mining organizations. At first, between 2009 and 2010, ARM ran some pilots for the Zero Standard in Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, which caught the attention of some organizations to work towards certification (Pinto Martinez & Villa, 2014).

The support includes helping in the process to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mercury for the recovery of gold, according to each country’s legislation. This is carried out starting from mineralogical and metallurgical analyses that evaluate the characteristics of the extracted mineral, which allows to find alternatives that could encourage a technological change and the optimization of the current process in order to use mercury responsibly and one day achieve its elimination.

ARM, as a global initiative involved in the development of socially and environmentally responsible mining, has the ethical obligation and institutional will to support all efforts to progressively eliminate the use of mercury by contributing in the development of tools and methodologies that allow to promote good practices in the extraction sector. The progressive elimination of the use of mercury encouraged by ARM starts with the promotion of its efficient use, which guarantees there are no mineral losses during the process, to eventually achieve its complete elimination.

ARM has developed, within different projects, various methodologies like booklets, publications, courses as well as other communicational material with the aim of raising the miners’ awareness and knowledge on the responsible use of mercury, its reduction and eventual elimination, and other available technologies depending on the mineral they extract.

Experiences in Bolivia: mining organization Yani reduces the use of mercury by 88%

In Bolivia, artisanal and small-scale mining is classified as cooperative small mining; therefore, the mining organizations that fall within this category have the possibility of getting the Fairmined certification. In 2013, with the collaboration of Cumbre del Sajama, ARM started working with the Mining Association of Yani R.L. offering support on themes like health and safety, the environment, administrative aspects, gender, community relations and adequate use of mercury, among others, with the aim of achieving all requirements of Year 0 of the Standard and therefore obtain the Fairmined Certification. At the beginnings of 2017 the Cooperative obtained the Fairmined Certification, which ensures they are able to produce and sell gold in a responsible manner (Pinto Martinez & Villa, 2014).

Through the post-certification support given to Yani it was possible to observe that thanks to the adoption of better practices on the handling and use of mercury in the gold recovery process, the consumption of mercury was reduced by 88% between 2015 and 2017 (Vásquez, 2015). This reduction was achieved by adding the necessary mercury only to the jig’s concentrate. Currently the cooperative has two certified lines in its processing plant for mineral concentration; the concentrate is then taken to the amalgam mill where the mercury is added.

Some support was also possible thanks to the inter-institutional agreement between ARM and the Technical University of Oruro: one of the final year students of the Metallurgic Engineering faculty got involved with Yani Association and was in charge of the mineral processing, as well as of fixing some flaws before the last Fairmined audit.

Currently the members of the Association state that they learned and improved on legal, work-related and environmental aspects to work responsibly and generate improvement and development in the work place. At this time the members feel proud of being able to show to their community and others that it is possible to create a responsible artisanal and small-scale mining sector. Yani carries out the process with better practices with regards to the use of mercury, it implements plans of mining safety and environmental management, it complies with Bolivian mining legislation and is committed to the progressive improvement of the workers’ and the community’s quality of life (Fairmined, 2018).

Experiences in Peru: CECOMIP and Oro Puno, two examples of achievement

Before speaking of the experiences in the ASM sector had in Peru, it is important to note that Peru is a mining country that possesses 5% of the global reserves of gold, which is the country’s second export product (ARM, 2017). Here, ASM provides big part of gold production, even though it is developed in rural communities with little State presence (ARM, 2017).

ARM, in the past few months, focused its attention on ASM in the region of Puno, working in the Ananea district with two alluvial mining organizations.

In 2016, the Central of Mining and Metallurgical Cooperatives of Puno, CECOMIP LTDA, became the first alluvial mining organization in the world to obtain the Fairmined Certification thanks to the support of Better Gold Initiative (BGI) that was possible through ABR group, who carried out the gap analysis and implemented the improvements in the cooperative. With the Fairmined Certification, they reaffirmed their commitment to complying with the current legislation and with social responsibility criteria, working towards a profitable mining production that generates development in the community involved.

At first, CECOMIP faced great challenges to achieve formalization. The main ones being the creation of a traceability system to control production, the implementation of a signaling system in all areas of operation and the use of safety gear by all workers (Fairmined, 2018). All these challenges were overcome thanks to the commitment of the organization to obtain the certification and all its benefits. Currently, CECOMIP’s team feels very proud of complying with all the requirements, including social and environmental security.

In the past few months, ARM offered post-certification support for the implementation of CECOMIP’s plan for the reduction of the use of mercury in the recovery process. For this, an initial diagnostic was carried out to analyze the situation, as for example the low technological level that does not allow productive efficiency, the inadequate control of the process and the operation conditions (Tito, 2018). Starting from this analysis, a cleaner processing alternative was proposed, in which it was recommended to take into account the whole process: the washing, the concentrate treatment in chutes and centrifuge, closed-circuit amalgamation, refinement, recovery and recirculation of water.

On top of these suggestions for a cleaner process, a proposal for improvement opportunities was generated that includes the elimination of mercury that would entail a gravimetric concentration followed by a direct smelting of the concentrates to obtain the final product. This plan is being followed so that CECOMIP can realize all the improvements needed to increase its production and the percentage of gold recovery in comparison with the previous process (Tito, 2018).

As well as working with CECOMIP, ARM has been involved in the past few months in the support of Oro Puno, also located in the district of Ananea. This ASMO was founded in 2010 for mining activity.

In January this year, Oro Puno obtained the Fairmined Ecological Gold Certification thanks to the technical support of BGI and ABR, which allowed them to improve their mining activity by implementing better practices and being able to export the gold produced at better selling conditions compared to the local market (Cooperación Suiza, 2018).

Since the beginning of this year, ARM started the post-certification support with Oro Puno, which consisted in improving the management of authorized Fairmined sellers for the sale of certified gold, realizing a diagnostic in which to propose alternatives to optimize the processing of the extracted mineral, especially with regards to the concentrate obtained in the chutes, therefore increasing productivity. This has been possible because at Oro Puno the processing is carried out without the use of any toxic substance, which requires a higher control of the process in order to recover the highest possible quantity of gold with gravimetric methods (Tito P, 2018).

Oro Puno is also receiving the support of a final year student of the Metallurgic Engineering faculty of the Technical University of Oruro, who will be in charge of the metallurgic evaluation. This evaluation consists in analyzing the current processes and recovery in order to suggest optimization alternatives with the aim of increasing gold recovery, culminating in the realization of the proposal of a method that allow the recovery of the fine gold that is left in the settling basin at the end of the process.

We hope that with this support and Oro Puno’s long-standing will to improve, the processes will be optimized and contribute to the development of the community.

Experiences in Colombia: continuing with the successful strategies and improving the process for those miners who still struggle to eliminate mercury

Moving on to ARM’s experiences in Colombia, the first organization to obtain the Fairmined Certification is located in the Huila department, in the municipality of Íquira: the Cooperativa Multiactiva Agrominera del Municipio de Íquira. This organization started working with ARM at the beginning of 2014, when the initial diagnostic was carried out to verify the conditions of the organizations and compare them to the requirements for the Fairmined Standard. From then, as usual in the support offered by ARM, an improvement plan was created with the organization’s members. As soon as 6 months after that the miners overcame the challenges they faced and obtained the Fairmined Certification. The main challenges resulted to be the complete elimination of the disposal of mercury in water, soil and air, the creation of a realistic plan for the reduction of mercury as well as counting with a management system for safety and security on the work place, which could prevent risks in all mining activities (Fairmined, 2018).

For the elimination of mercury disposal in water, the Cooperative’s plants treated the amalgamation tailings by passing them through the centrifuge concentrate, which takes advantage of the difference in density between mercury and the other minerals. This allows the mercury particles to be concentrated. For the elimination of mercury vapors during the amalgam process, they implemented the use of the retort, a watertight tool that allows the recovery of gold without letting the vapors reach the atmosphere; the mercury used is then recovered and reused in the amalgam process. With these small changes, the members of the Íquira Cooperative achieved the elimination of mercury disposal in the surrounding environment.

Throughout the years, the Cooperative has received support by ARM with an annual pre-audit, since the first time they obtained the certification in Year 0, with which we apply an analysis of the Fairmined Standard requirements and then formulate with the members an improvement plan to fix the flaws encountered. This way, the miners could keep complying with the progressive requirements of the Fairmined Standard and maintain the Certification, which they first obtain in 2014.

In Colombia, the Act 1658, known as the mercury act, was emitted in 2013 with the aim of safeguarding natural renewable resources and the environment. The purpose of this act is to regulate the use, import, production, commercialization, handling, transport, stock, and disposal of mercury in industrial activities on national territory. It also envisions the elimination of mercury in the mining sector within a maximum of 5 years, and within 10 years for all industrial and production processes. Thus, on the 16th of July 2018 the use of mercury in mining started to be illegal. Additionally, the act also established incentive programs for the reduction and elimination of the use of mercury in the mining sector, as well as for the formalization of mining activities (Congreso de Colombia, 2013).

The act 1658 of 2013 established strategies that, if correctly implemented, could help artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) to overcome the challenges it faces and eliminate mercury. The articles 3, 6, and 7 recognize the need for research, development, training, technical assessment, implementation of processes and measures to reduce and eliminate mercury in the sector. With this aim, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje), universities, ONGs, consulting firms and private companies have been developing strategies to introduce clean, simple and effective technologies to the miners. Their implementation would mean an increase in the percentage of recovery of up to 20%, depending on the characteristics of the mineral.

The act also mentions incentives for the reduction and elimination of the use of mercury in the mining sector by means of soft loans. In practice, however, the “bankization” process has been a great challenge for small-scale mining, as the sector does not count with the information and financial background required by the banking system. Because of this, the miners have not been able to access credit that would allow them to fund studies to learn about alternative technologies and processes that would suit the mineral. Some professional studies have been carried out by the Ministry of Mines and International Cooperation, which allowed to elaborate plans for the elimination of mercury according to the current resources. (González, 2018).

There have been cases of successful elimination of mercury in the departments of Nariño, Cauca, Sur de Bolívar and Antioquia. The barriers that prevented artisanal miners to sustainably achieve the elimination of mercury have also been reduced. However, in spite of the efforts for a mercury-free ASM, there are still many miners on national territory that continue to use this toxic substance, which opens the possibility of a criminalization of mining. The government is now facing the challenges of learning from its past experiences, continuing the successful strategies and improve the process for those miners who still haven’t achieved a mercury-free process (González, 2018).




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Tito, F. (2018). Consultoria por producto desarrollo de una producción mas limpia para la Central de Cooperativas Minero Metalúrgicas de Puno Ltda. Ananea. Internal document

Vásquez, J. E. (2015). Asistencia técnica sobre caracterización mineralógica y métodos de concentración gravimétrica a Cooperativas auríferas de Bolivia. Envigado. Internal document

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