Professionalizing artisanal mine sites

Artisanal mining – an economic development opportunity overlooked

Artisanal cobalt mining is said to provide a livelihood to more than 200.000 men and women. Paying comparatively well and boasting a low barrier of entry, artisanal mining is seen by many as advantageous compared to agricultural or other entrepreneurial endeavours.

This is not a fringe occurrence, but counts for many minerals and gemstones across the global south including tin, tungsten tantalum and gold (3TG),coloured gemstones, diamonds and development minerals – offering a livelihood for more than 40 million people. As such, artisanal and small-scale mining comprises an important source of supply to global supply chains. It is estimated that as much as 15% of cobalt mined in the DRC originates from artisanal mine sites.

Recognizing its developmental potential as a job engine, artisanal mining has been recognized alongside industrial mining in the DRC’s mining code – regulation of the artisanal mining sector, however, is yet to be fully enforced.

Current mining conditions are unacceptable

Over the last years, issues around hazardous working conditions and trade terms perceived as exploitative have increasingly been put in the spotlight. Experts agree that most artisanal cobalt mining sites in the DRC lack adequate equipment, technical expertise and management systems to ensure the physical health and safety and mental well-being of mine workers.

Men descend down makeshift tunnels, reaching depths of up to 100 meters, despite the legal maximum depth being limited to just 30 meters. Without adequate PPE, too often, these conditions result in injury or even death that could have been prevented through better site management and enhanced infrastructure. Even the women in the washing and sorting stations face serious health risks due to high exposure to heavy metals. However, only the best run sites have access to emergency equipment and clinics.

On top of these occupational health and safety concerns, ASM sites see several other labour related issues. Artisanal mines often operate illegally or at least informally, lacking the appropriate licenses and land rights to conduct their operations. Miners often feel exploited by traders; and child labour inside the mines has been described as a systemic issue by research published by Amnesty International and Berkley University as early as 2016.

Mining can be done right

Improving ASM working conditions starts with engagement and investment into safer, dignified working conditions

Shutting down ASM altogether would be economically devastating and counterproductive. Rather than disengaging and turning a blind eye to these issues, we want to invest in, and engage with these sites promoting and enabling continuous improvement. We need to invest in on-site improvements regarding production equipment, mine infrastructure, and worker training. Over time, it is essential that artisanal, non-mechanized mining is transformed into small-scale mining with appropriate safety measures, earth-moving equipment, legal status, and pricing transparency so that miners are afforded safe and dignified working conditions.

Mine Diagram

Our vision for a modern mine site. Improving ASM working conditions starts with engagement and investment into safer, dignified working conditions.

Wall / trench – Ingress Control

The easiest and most efficient ways to keep children and unauthorised individuals out of mines is by securing the perimeter using a form of border protection.

Warehousing / depot following open market principle

Having various depots / buying centres on site leads to a controlled open market environment, where depots compete with one another for supply, giving miners a greater choice of where and at what price to sell their produce compared with the centralised buying model of some ASM sites.

Independent scales and purity measurement to guarantee fair markets

Rampant mistrust in depots’ scales and purity measurements warrant the provision of independent verification booths that could be operated either by the cooperatives or potentially SAEMAPE.

Independent provision of productive equipment

In an effort to boost occupational health and safety on site as well as the level of productivity, and thus miners’ income, it is of high importance to make safe and good equipment available to the miners. Equipment could be anything from adequate head torches integrated in hard hats, through jack hammers and water pumps, to winches or essential PPE.

Sanitation Facilities

Providing showers and toilets on site is an important step towards offering dignified and good working conditions.

First Aid Clinic

Minor accidents and injuries are a daily reality on the ground. Providing adequate first aid facilities, including trained staff is of great importance.

Fresh water access

Rather than being available at just one spot on the perimeter, workers should have access to free, safe drinking water.

Food Stores / Vendors

Easily overseen, local vendors play a big role in keeping the mines running, as they provide food, tools and even clothes to everyone working in and around the mine.

Weighing bridge

Before shipping the ore off to the refinery, trucks need to be weighed to calculate transport taxes.

Planned mine area and controlled pits

The core piece of the model mine is a controlled and planned mining area, governed by the cooperative in charge and monitored by SAEMAPE and other service providers. Congolese law restricts maximum pit depth to 25m, meaning that regular levelling, applying an open pit approach to the mine, allows full respect of the law.

Earth moving equipment

Excavators and other earth moving equipment should be on site to level sections of the mine area, where pit depth has reached or exceeded the legal maximum value of 25m.

Mine Security

Ensuring the peaceful operation of the mine and preventing unauthorised people from entering the mine requires the presence of mine security, usually comprising state mine police and private security, who should be trained with respect to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

Controlled Mine Access

Controlling access to the mines through gate controls ensures that intoxicated people, children and heavily pregnant women cannot easily enter the mine. Ideally, mines would devise a system of using personal ID cards for identification of workers authorised to enter the premises.

Traceability / Chain of Custody

To ensure the integrity of the ESG claims made around the minerals produced, it is important to utilise a credible chain of custody solution in line with international expectations for traceability.

The easiest and most efficient ways to keep children and unauthorised individuals out of mines is by securing the perimeter using a form of border protection.

Having various depots / buying centres on site leads to a controlled open market environment, where depots compete with one another for supply, giving miners a greater choice of where and at what price to sell their produce compared with the centralised buying model of some ASM sites.

Rampant mistrust in depots’ scales and purity measurements warrant the provision of independent verification booths that could be operated either by the cooperatives or potentially SAEMAPE.

In an effort to boost occupational health and safety on site as well as the level of productivity, and thus miners’ income, it is of high importance to make safe and good equipment available to the miners. Equipment could be anything from adequate head torches integrated in hard hats, through jack hammers and water pumps, to winches or essential PPE.

Providing showers and toilets on site is an important step towards offering dignified and good working conditions.

Minor accidents and injuries are a daily reality on the ground. Providing adequate first aid facilities, including trained staff is of great importance.

Rather than being available at just one spot on the perimeter, workers should have access to free, safe drinking water.

Easily overseen, local vendors play a big role in keeping the mines running, as they provide food, tools and even clothes to everyone working in and around the mine.

Before shipping the ore off to the refinery, trucks need to be weighed to calculate transport taxes.

The core piece of the model mine is a controlled and planned mining area, governed by the cooperative in charge and monitored by SAEMAPE and other service providers. Congolese law restricts maximum pit depth to 25m, meaning that regular levelling, applying an open pit approach to the mine, allows full respect of the law.

Excavators and other earth moving equipment should be on site to level sections of the mine area, where pit depth has reached or exceeded the legal maximum value of 25m.

Ensuring the peaceful operation of the mine and preventing unauthorised people from entering the mine requires the presence of mine security, usually comprising state mine police and private security, who should be trained with respect to the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

Controlling access to the mines through gate controls ensures that intoxicated people, children and heavily pregnant women cannot easily enter the mine. Ideally, mines would devise a system of using personal ID cards for identification of workers authorised to enter the premises.

To ensure the integrity of the ESG claims made around the minerals produced, it is important to utilise a credible chain of custody solution in line with international expectations for traceability.

Transforming the sector takes an continuou improvement approach – built on the notion of inclusivity.

In order to achieve better working conditions across the sector, we need to invest through blended finances, leveraging commercial offtake as well as grants from corporations, institutional donors and governments.

The FCA offers a platform for all parties to pool their funds together to work following an ambitious, yet pragmatic, continuous improvement plan, promoting inclusive development to ensure sustainable livelihoods for those working at mine sites.

Developing a framework for the engagement with and investment in responsible ASM Cobalt

In collaboration with the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI) and the Responsible Minerals Initiate (RMI), the FCA has developed a holistic Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) framework to establish best practices for structuring engagement and investment. This framework was developed in consultation of cooperatives, local and national government, downstream and midstream companies to ensure the inclusivity of all relevant stakeholders.

Download the full ESG framework

Download

At Glencore, we recognise that artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is a vital source of employment and income generation in countries like the DRC. We believe ASM can co-exist alongside large-scale mining when carried out responsibly and transparently.
Through our membership of the FCA, we are investing to address the poverty that is the underlying cause of so many of the challenges associated with ASM. What’s more, we will support legitimate ASM cooperatives in their endeavours to transform their practices and align with international human rights practices, especially in the prevention of child labour.

David Brocas
Head Cobalt Trader, Glencore and Chairman of the Cobalt Institute