EARTHWORKS

The Quest for Responsible Small-Scale Gold Mining

The Quest for Responsible Small-Scale Gold Mining
A Comparison of Standards of Initiatives Aiming for Responsibility

Published: February 8, 2010

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Large-scale mines are often a threat to communities and the environment, but what about artisanal and small-scale mines?

Small-scale mines can have serious community and environmental impacts.  If projects adopt mining standards that are responsible and most precautionary, small-scale mining could be a source of more responsibly mined gold.  Adopting strong principles and standards for responsible ASM practices may allow miners to minimize harmful impacts and allow ASM to provide a net benefit to communities.

This EARTHWORKS and No Dirty Gold report compares the standards being used or developed by several different projects that intend to be responsible sources of gold from artisanal and small-scale mines. 

No single initiative that we examined represented precautionary, comprehensive, best practice standards for all of the aspects of small-scale mining that we considered.  Each of the initiatives had points for which it was closer to representing best practice, and points where it was further from best practice.  Although it can be difficult to compare across initiatives that include retailer-based and mine site- or certification-based efforts, the comparison of standards suggests improvements that could be made in the initiatives. All of the initiatives would benefit from strong standards on biodiversity, energy use, and involvement of principle stakeholders in development of standards.

The stronger points from all of these initiatives, in combination with the precautionary principle and known best practice, could be combined to form a composite of best practice in responsible small-scale gold mining.  Such a certification system would include practices such as respecting human rights; obtaining community consent; guaranteeing revenue sharing and transparency; not operating in areas of armed conflict; respecting workers rights and health and safety standards; not using mercury or other toxic chemicals; and not operating in protected areas, among others. Traceability and third-party verification of compliance would provide further assurance of responsible sourcing.

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