Fact sheet

Artisanal and small-scale mining

Print Friendly and PDF

Why is it important in relation to security and human rights risk mitigation? 

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) activities are frequently intertwined with large-scale mining (LSM) operations in numerous contexts around the world. The probability for conflict and security and human rights incidents to occur between LSM mining operators and ASM mining communities, unless specifically addressed, is high and increasing. ASM is often cited as a major cause for security and human rights incidents that seriously threaten the rights and dignity of individual miners and their communities.

Security and human rights challenges in in LSM – ASM contexts:

  • In some countries, national or local laws and regulations lack clarity regarding where, how and how much artisanal mining can legally be undertaken. This ambiguity may result in local miners trespassing or accessing mining concessions illegally. Companies, through their public or private security providers, sometimes respond with the use of force and this creates company-community conflicts;
  • Limited socio-economic development and unemployment can narrow alternative economic options for local communities. Under these circumstances, local populations tend to continue to engage in ASM, even if it is illegal, and companies in reaction occasionally seek to take restrictive measures; 
  • The discovery of minerals that can be extracted through ASM can create a “gold-rush scenario” where there is a large in-migration of people into existing communities in search of economic opportunity. This causes strain on community resources and conflicts with residents. 

ASM is a reality in many mining contexts. The approach a company takes to manage community relationships, and in particular the role played by its security set-up vis-à-vis artisanal miners, can exacerbate or mitigate the escalation of conflicts. 

ASM-LSM : What should companies do?

In situations where the company manages an ASM site on its concession, engage with ASM actors and representatives before organizing security arrangements to ensure that community concerns are addressed, and human rights of artisanal miners are respected. 

When companies do not manage an ASM site on their concession, but ASM nevertheless takes place around the company premises, wider security dynamics can be complex. Some minerals that are mined through ASM outside of the concession might nevertheless make their way into a company’s supply chain. In such cases, companies have a responsibility to ensure human rights are respected even outside of their direct control. 

Implement gender differentiated policies. Develop all policies keeping in mind that a large percentage of ASM workers are women, who suffer specific human rights impacts.  

Train private security providers, and/or ensure that public security providers are trained on how to interact with ASM miners and communities. Security personnel are in a complicated position, at times under threat when ASM workers insist on entry or might be offered bribes and asked for favours by ASM workers, which may be hard to resist especially when coming from their own communities (see 4.4.e). 

Engage with and participate actively in multistakeholder working groups on business and human rights. These working groups can support monitoring security and human rights issues in ASM-LSM contexts and mediating conflicts.

Support ASM formalization efforts that establish and monitor extraction standards and promote peaceful coexistence of industrial and artisanal mining and economic and social development for communities.

Engage with and implement initiatives that seek certification of minerals, or with other standards/benchmarking measures

Example of good practice

To limit risks to the security and human rights of ASM actors and surrounding communities, companies that take constructive steps as early as the exploration phase of project development are more likely to build and maintain a trusting relationship with the ASM community. 

In Ghana, ASM activity takes place in close proximity to the Tarkwa Gold Fields mine.  When the mine transitioned from underground to open pit format in the mid-1990s, reports indicated tensions between ASM actors and the company, including: 

  • security providers reportedly permitted the trespassing of ASM workers into mines leading to thefts of product and equipment ;
  • hundreds of illegal miners occupied a portion of the concession ;
  • there were disagreements between the company and ASM on village relocations. 

The company worked to resolve these tensions and implemented open dialogue and clear and predictable arrangements  by signing an MoU in 2012 with ASM actors, village chiefs, and district assemblymen regarding the land concessions.  That same year, the Gold Fields Sustainable Development team also commissioned a baseline social study of ASM activities near the mine. This included further direct engagement with local communities and small-scale miners. 

The study informed the development of an ASM strategy for Gold Fields Ghanaian operations. The strategy included a focus on security and stakeholders and aimed at ensuring the company and its employees engage with ASM communities with respect and transparency. As a result of these strategies, the company’s Community Relations and Sustainable Development team has described the relationship between ASM actors and the Tarkwa Mine as characterized by greater trust and non-violent interactions.