MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mining lobby group advocates engaging with artisanal miners

Published by MAC on 2010-02-15
Source: ICMM

But its approach, though welcome, leaves a lot to be desired

Last week, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) published a lengthy report, based to a considerable extent on the work of CASM, the World Bank's unit on smallscale and artisanal mining (ASM).

This serious and well-researched "pilot study" provides examples of collaboration (or lack of it) between ASM miners and big companies, covering several countries where  alarm has recently been expressed about the impacts of corporate extractive operations - Peru, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, DR Congo and Indonesia.

Nonetheless, it is disappointing that the ICMM hasn't also drawn lessons from India, Colombia, Mongolia, Zimbabwe or Brazil - to name a few further countries where ASM has been a topic of considerable political debate.

The report essentially asks: "What can the formal mining industry do to cooperate with informal miners, to their mutual benefit?" That's certainly a welcome advance on earlier stances which tended to regard smallscale mining as, at best a hindrance, at worst as criminal. See:

However, in several of the cases considered (e.g. at Rio Tinto's Kelian mine in Kalimantan, Barrick Gold's mines at Porgera in PNG and the North Mara mine in Tanzania; Goldfield's operations at  Abosso in Ghana), major conflicts between local/Indigenous miners and invasive companies seem to have been air-brushed out of the picture.

The report confirms small mining as a source of important, sometimes vital, income for millions of people, concluding that cooperation between government, big companies (LSM's as they're termed here) and ASMers is essential if its practices are to improve. 

It maps out diagnostic "tools", which might well be useful for mining-dependent communities - if only so that they can cite them when implementation falls well short of the standards.

Nonetheless, the ICMM approach leaves completely to one side a thorough analysis of the intrinsic imbalance in power between the putative partners - even if the often-spurious distinction between "illegal" and "legal" activities is now found wanting.

The prime motive behind this initiative (and the potentially negative consequence of uncritically backing it) is to forge closer relationships between "small" and "big".

What this means is spelt out in the ICMM report's conclusion:

"Artisanal and small-scale miners, whether operating legally, informally or illegally, are key stakeholders for LSM companies. The tools and approaches presented in this guidance document are intended to help companies build stronger and more effective engagement with ASM miners. Engagement strategies will work best when they are tailored to specific conditions.

"As more companies expand into regions where artisanal mining currently exists or could develop, the business case for a sound engagement approach between LSM and ASM will only strengthen. The spectrum of tools presented in this document – ranging from conflict resolution and resettlement through to technical assistance and support for formalization policies – recognizes the diversity of relationships between ASM and LSM that exists around the world. It is hoped that by coming to understand each other’s activities and drivers, ASM and LSM can support each other to "work together" in the future".

But this is hardly good enough.  The formula ignores the need for a thorough transformation of the existing egregious nature of much large-scale mining. It fails to effectively challenge the profit-obsessed "ethos" of many companies, and to challenge the unacceptable economic stranglehold some of them currently wield over governments and land-based labourers alike.

Unless this changes, the conflicts seen at numerous contested mining sites around the world, are bound to continue.

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 14 February 2010]

See also this week's report on a new study of "fair trade" practices in smallscale gold mining, and what they leave to be desired:

New publication on engaging with artisanal and small-scale miners

ICMM Release

1 February 2010

A new publication "Working together - how large-scale miners can engage with artisanal and small-scale miners", is now available to download (

This document is the product of a fruitful partnership with Communities and Small-Scale Mining (CASM), the International Finance Corporation's Oil, Gas, and Mining Sustainable Community Development Fund (IFC CommDev) and ICMM.

The interaction between large-scale mining companies and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) operations has not always been positive, and encounters between the two sectors are increasing. There are a number of ASM sustainable development challenges - including security, human rights and relocation programs - that can require specific ASM consideration.

ICMM is pleased to announce the launch of this guidance document designed to support good relationships between companies and the ASM sector. For the first time, "Working together" brings together a number of approaches and tools for engaging with ASM operators.

It is put forward as a pilot, so that further testing and gathering of good practices with companies can take place in a next phase.

For further information, or to provide feedback, please contact

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