The opinions expressed in this publication are exclusively those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of the Alliance for Responsible Mining, its Board of Directors or its technical team.
Laura Much – Manager, New Business Development & Communication
This Blog-entry is based upon the Knowledge Paper Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining: Addressing Challenges in Global Supply Chains(written by Akylai Anarbaeva, Theresa Quiachon and Raquel Althoff, 2019). The paper sheds light on the often inhumane working conditions within the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)sector, outlines the human rights related risks and therewith involved responsibilities of businesses, and addresses the challenges for companies resulting from ASM.
It further provides perspectives on how companies can address those issues in the framework of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and introduces various initiatives and good practice examples of human rights due diligence within ASM.
Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in Global Supply Chains
It is needless to say that artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is of significant importance for sourcing valuable minerals and geological materials that are processed in products we use daily. This includes e.g. jewelry, electronic devices, technology and automobiles. As such, ASM affects any company whose products or production processes depend on this wide range of materials somewhere along their value chain.
The structure of the global value chain within the sector clearly illustrates the high dependency of Western consumers on the minerals extracted in so-called developing countries within Africa, Asia, Oceana and Central and South America.
ASM is not just important to the companies and countries sourcing the minerals, it is an important source of income for many people living in poverty. It ensures the existence for more than 150 million people in more than 120 countries compared to about 7 million people working in industrial mining worldwide.
Whereas ASM is a legal activity in many places, it is frequently linked to the informal economy and is often considered to be an illegal activity. In many cases the operations take place in distant or “difficult-to-access locations, and in regions where the institutional presence of the government is weak”.2 This results into an environment in which major human rights issues occur. From extraction of minerals to the entering of companies’ value chain, it involves various interim actors who do not always act according to the law.
Hence, the probability that companies that depend on mining products are involved in salient human rights violations occurring in ASM is quite high. Likewise, minerals and gemstones extracted in ASM are in many cases not registered, and this makes them easy to smuggle out of the national borders into the international market.3 This way, unregistered minerals enter the value chain of many companies that are not aware of their true cost.
Altogether, the main problem for businesses depending upon or connected to ASM is the lack of transparency and visibility in most companies’ supply chains. This originates in the lack of human rights due diligence processes within corporate strategies and operations.
Human rights challenges
There are various human rights challenges within the sector. The paper provides a compact overview of the greatest challenges within ASM:
Informality – One of the main human rights challenges within the sector is the informality forcing miners to accept poor working conditions, exposing themselves to known health-related risks. Without legal registration, workers cannot negotiate wages, working hours, and health and safety concerns. In case of occupational injuries and fatalities, neither workers nor their families have access to remedy. They are excluded from legal protection, social benefits and support.
Health and occupational safety: The health impacts of ASM are well recognised and continue to present challenges: Long-term adverse working environments, such as digging and other extraction tasks, and high exposure to toxic chemicals, for instance mercury, subsequently deteriorate workers‘ health and provoke chronic diseases in the respiratory, nervous and digestive systems.
Forced labour – Unfortunately, ASM often entails forced labour: Due to the complexity of conditions of modern slavery4 and the diversity of the ASM sector, world statics on forced labour lack adequacy, but it is reported to be found in all geographical regions where ASM takes place. 5 Systemic violence – Crime and violence prevail throughout the sector: Hazardous mining operations jeopardize local communities as rebel groups and political actors extend violence beyond the miners. In many cases, communities have become subject to forced relocation, illegal taxation, threats and intimidation.
Child labour: Despite the globally circulated and ratified international conventions on prohibition of child labour, children are still, to a large extent, engaged in the mining sites. Children working in ASM perform the same activities as adults, exposing themselves to the risk of explosions and falling rocks. They dig ores, crush mills, carry heavy stones and bags of mud on their backs and heads, and process the gold ore with mercury. Environmental degradation – Environmental degradation linked to ASM presents major human rights challenges: Artisanal and small-scale mines usually do not have licenses to carry out extraction practices, which often results into destructive impacts on the environment. The extraction practices destroy thousands of vegetation, animal habitats and topsoil from arable land. Consequently, this exacerbates the poverty and hunger scale.
Environmental degradation: Environmental degradation linked to ASM presents major human rights challenges: Artisanal and small-scale mines usually do not have licenses to carry out extraction practices, which often results into destructive impacts on the environment. The extraction practices destroy thousands of vegetation, animal habitats and topsoil from arable land. Consequently, this exacerbates the poverty and hunger scale.
Why business’s action is needed
Business are confronted with customer and investor expectations on the one hand and a lack of political stability and will on the other hand. They cannot replace state responsibilities to protect human rights but must make sure human rights are respected in their operations even under difficult circumstances. This responsibility of companies is clearly set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and has been reflected in several national legislations (for more information see p.8 of the paper). What companies should do Establishing human rights due diligence is a major challenge and companies shouldn’t underestimate the effort it takes to make it effective. Our experience shows that the core elements of the UNGPs provide a practical and helpful framework to structure the process of a human rights due diligence: 1. Establish a strong commitment and management systems. Identify and assess human rights impacts in the own supply and value chain. 3. Mitigate and monitor adverse effects on human rights. Be transparent about what the company is doing 5. Establish a grievance mechanism. For a more detailed description of these 5 steps see p. 11 of the paper.
What companies should do
Establishing human rights due diligence is a major challenge and companies shouldn’t underestimate the effort it takes to make it effective. Our experience shows that the 5 core elements of the UNGPs provide a practical and helpful framework to structure the process of a human rights due diligence:
- Establish a strong commitment and management systems.
- Identify and assess human rights impacts in the own supply and value chain.
- Mitigate and monitor adverse effects on human rights.
- Be transparent about what the company is doing. Establish a grievance mechanism.
For a more detailed description of these 5 steps see page 11 of the paper.
Examples of organisations and due diligence programs are: The Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCI); The Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI); Tetra Tech; BGR; The Artisanal Gold Council (AGC); Pact Mines to Markets (M2M); or The Kimberley Process (KP).
Due diligence programs and good practice
Like the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) there are various organisations and due diligence programs promoting fair and good working conditions within ASM. By fostering sectorial dialogue and multi-stakeholder initiatives, Western companies should bundle their efforts to promote fair working conditions in the sourcing countries.
Examples of Good Practice on how supply chain transparency can be managed and fair working conditions encouraged are portrayed by cases of the Tracr project of the Beer Group, Apple inc.’s due diligence efforts, BMW and Fairphone, (e.g. by the use of new technologies, detailed supplier selections or transparent sourcing practices).
Altogether, it is important that all stakeholders involved share their experiences and practices. By incorporating the voices of rightsholders, communities, NGOs, human rights experts, as well as by using risks mitigation processes, businesses can make a difference and have a significant possibility to positively affect the livelihoods of many people in the sourcing societies.
About Löning- Human Rights & Responsible Business
We are a Berlin-based management consultancy and think tank with an international team specialised in business and human rights. Our clients are listed companies, family owned businesses and international non-profit organisations with global operations. We help clients establish effective human rights due diligence processes. Working with our clients, we create strategies that strengthen overall compliance with human rights requirements, contributing to the sustainability of the business. More information about our work and team you’ll find on our website at www.loening-berlin.de.
About the Author
Laura Much – Manager, New Business Development & Communication Laura Much is involved in all new-business related activities of the firm, including external communication and events. She is responsible for widening Löning‘s international network with clients and experts. Coming from a political communication and online-PR background, Laura’s work at the firm combines her passion for communication and commitment for human rights and justice.