MIL-OSI Asia-Pac: Guest Article: To Reach SDG 8: Decent Work, We Must Embrace Artisanal Miners


Source: Small Island Developing States

By James McQuilken

Despite contributing enormously to the economic growth of over 80 lower-income countries worldwide, 45 million artisanal and small-scale miners work in difficult and dangerous conditions, for low pay, and with little to no social protections. The 2020 State of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector report’s review of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) helps bring visibility to the reality of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), in turn contributing to the achievement of the entire 2030 Agenda.

Working mainly in the informal economy, the women, men, and sometimes children engaged in ASM remain hidden from view, and their contributions to local wealth creation and global mineral supply chains go largely unnoticed. Artisanal miners produce 20% of the world’s gold, 25% of tin, and 26% of tantalum, all of which are used in everyday electronics like smartphones and laptops. They also extract 12-14% of the world’s cobalt, which is used in the electric vehicle batteries powering our green energy revolution, and they mine significant amounts of the world’s diamonds and gemstones used in jewelry, as well as construction and industrial materials for much-needed housing and infrastructure.

To achieve SDG  8, one of the Global Goals under review at the 2021 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) convening from 6-15 July, we must ensure that artisanal miners and their communities are included in the sustainable development agenda. 

One way to increase the visibility of ASM in discussions on the SDGs is through better data. Better access to complete, accurate, and reliable data is needed to track the contribution of ASM to achieving all 17 SDGs, chart progress, and identify opportunities and challenges to further unlocking the development potential of the sector.

The 2020 State of the ASM Sector report published earlier this year by Delve, a global platform for ASM data developed by the World Bank and Pact, draws on 22 case studies from 43 partner organizations to present new data on the importance of ASM to achieving SDG 8. The report uses five themes to explain the need to include hidden artisanal miners in efforts to achieve SDG 8.

On the theme of occupational health and safety (OHS), we found that large-scale mining was once as unsafe as ASM is today but has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past 40-50 years, reducing fatality frequency rates (number of deaths per 1 million work hours) from ~0.5 to near zero. With affordable and practical solutions that also increase incomes, we could achieve the same in ASM. For example, as the Rwanda case study in the report shows, installing low-cost winches to transport ore up steep hillsides and wooden timber supports back down reduced the risk of injury. Properly calculating the number of wooden posts to support tunnels and installing them correctly, situating waste heaps appropriately, and building stable paths are also shown to improve productivity and mine safety.

A second theme in the report is the need for data on the economic importance of ASM. Socio-economic data is critical to understanding how ASM and its ecosystems of economic activity operate, as well as to quantify and qualify the sector’s contributions to local wealth creation, linkages to other industries, and GDP. With such data a strong case can be made to policymakers for more investment to support communities and formalize ASM activities. The report calls for improved economic data to strengthen national reporting and accounting systems and to ensure ASM is included in household surveys and censuses. We must build the capacity of government institutions and leverage and empower existing networks of ASM associations to capture qualitative and quantitative data on the sector’s contributions to labor, revenues, and exports.

Disaggregated and detailed data on gender and women are also key. Despite making up 30-40% of the ASM workforce, the 2020 report shows that women are largely absent from official statistics. Their exclusion illustrates the lack of attention given to women’s work in the sector and the specific issues they face. Quite simply, women are not being seen or counted.

With better quantitative and qualitative data, comprehensive and indisputable evidence can be developed to inform innovative formalization and support programmes that directly connect with, and are tailored to the needs of, artisanal miners and their communities. These data can shine a light on the world’s largest mining workforce and ensure ASM is included in the 2030 Agenda. Without harnessing the contributions of ASM to decent work and economic growth and addressing its challenges, we cannot fully achieve SDG 8 nor the other Global Goals by 2030.

This guest article is authored by James McQuilken, Program Officer, Mines to Markets, Pact. Twitter: @J_McQuilken / @PactWorld. Email:

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