Effective communications practices can help build greater support for the artisanal and small-scale mining sector by spotlighting ways it contributes to sustainable development. These inspirational examples show how it's done.
Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is often associated with environmental degradation, workers’ exploitation, unsafe practices, and even conflict. However, the sector is also a source of employment and local economic development in some of the world’s most deprived areas, where few alternatives exist. In recent years, responsible ASGM operators have made major strides towards demonstrating that the sector can be a driver of sustainable development. But many challenges remain. Chief among them is the lack of awareness of what the sector can do for local communities with adequate support and access to markets.
Good communications practices can help counteract negative perceptions of the sector, and there are already many fruitful communications efforts in the ASGM and broader artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector from which lessons can be drawn. The 16 projects and initiatives examined here demonstrate strategic, inclusive communications practices that can help build greater support for the sector. These are presented under four different purposes of communications outreach:
- Communicating directly with miners & ASM communities
- Highlighting ASM data
- Promoting human interest stories about miners and communities
- Influencing governments, buyers and other actors in the supply chain
1. Communicating directly with miners & ASM communities
Somos Tesoro ("We are Treasure") works to reduce child labor in mining areas and improve health and safety in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sites in Colombia. Working against a backdrop of significant negative perceptions of the sector in the country, the program was concerned that raising child labor issues could worsen negative perceptions, and decrease the already limited support it receives.
Avoiding outright condemnation of ASM sites that engaged in child labor in their communications, they worked with miners and ASM communities to identify and articulate, from their perspective, the potential of ASM as a driver of local development. Using communications for development methodologies, they focused on aspirations and on defining the kind of ASM that communities and local governments would want to have and be a part of. Such good mining, it was concluded, protects children and provides opportunities for young people. This helped the program introduce child labor issues in a more positive context and enable community members to become spokespeople and advocates for the eradication of child labor.
- Co-creation of messages with miners and communities can lead to a cohort of local champions advocating a more responsible ASM. In addition, they will most likely have greater credibility with other miners and local communities than a relatively external project team.
- Having miners driving the process of change locally earned the support of local government and regulators for the project.
The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) works with artisanal and small-scale miners and supports them in adopting more responsible practices and, when possible, to achieve formalization through the adoption of the CRAFT code, or to obtain Fairmined certification. Creating effective materials that make the case for responsible artisanal and small-scale mining to informal miners is crucial to their mission.
ARM released bulletins specifically designed for mining communities. From 2017, they switched to ‘territorial bulletins,’ which are in some instances co-created with miners and written for their particular community or location. These include: reader-friendly explanations of what responsible ASM is and how it can benefit miners and communities; examples of how other communities are moving towards certification; summaries of ARM’s activities and work plans at the site and community, as they support them in improving their practices; and other information relevant to miners and communities.
- Working with miners to identify the content that interests them helps design a relevant product.
- Co-creating bulletins with miners can take a long time and is often challenging. When the areas where miners operate are large and access is limited, these bulletins can become a tool for miners themselves who can use it to encourage their peers and laborers to adopt more responsible practices.
- By tailoring the information to the local area, the community gains a sense of pride and dignity as an audience worthy of its own newsletter.
- Bulletins are linked to projects that have the funding for this activity, so they are vulnerable to project cycles and budgets.
In 2016, the Peruvian government kicked off a major program for ASM formalization, setting the target of formalizing more than 250,000 artisanal miners operating throughout the country. The lack of information and guidance available to miners about the process, regulations and compliance, key milestones, deadlines, and requirements quickly became a challenge to formalization. Most support services for obtaining mining licenses are designed for medium- to large-scale enterprises with capital to invest in the setup stage. Against this backdrop, Alerta Minero, a Peruvian social enterprise, set off to offer information services tailored to the needs of miners working toward formalization.
Using SMS text messages Alerta Minero sends alerts to miners upon subscription to their paid service and provides advice and guidance virtually. The SMS messages provide information about miners’ responsibilities during the formalization process—for example, taxes and levies, labor and environmental regulations, relevant legislation, and gold price. This information is designed to help miners avoid penalties that could jeopardize their chances of becoming formalized. The information provided aims to guide miners through the formalization process and to provide tips to improve their entrepreneurial skills.
Gold price is the most popular information requested from the service. Alerta Minero has developed an Application Programming Interface, or API, that enables any miner with a 2G signal on their mobile phone to access, free of charge, the LBMA-set daily gold price and the day’s exchange rate, by sending a text message. This information enables miners to negotiate prices with local buyers.
- Putting audiences first—including using language and formats accessible to them—can help build credibility and encourage more responsible practices.
- Time needs to be spent researching and knowing ASM audiences, particularly the information they need and their preferred ways of accessing or receiving it.
2. Highlighting ASM data
A historic lack of reliable data undermines the ASM sector, concealing its actual and potential contribution to sustainable development, and perpetuating negative perceptions of the sector, including that it is "dirty, chaotic and inherently bad for the environment." Delve aims to provide better data to reveal a more accurate picture and support better decision-making, policies, and interventions.
The World Bank and Pact have created an interactive online database that allows users to visualize data about the sector by number of people working in the sector, countries and regions, minerals and themes. A beta version launched in April 2019. While there are gaps at the time of writing, Delve is a very promising source of comprehensive data, free to use. The full version was launched in September 2019 and includes new features, such as the ability to create and download graphs and personalized visualizations based on users’ interests. Future upgrades will include indexes and more resources. The current strategy is to provide data without comprehensive analysis, in addition to the yearly ‘state of the sector’ reports, so users are able to draw their own conclusions based on their interests. Delve has been designed as a crowdsourcing platform that will collect and make available data received from other organizations across the sector.
- Delve benefits from the latest approaches in data visualization and interactive user experiences. It brings some of the most modern data interaction technologies to the sector. A true first.
- Its first State of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector report was launched in April 2019. The report is insightful and makes an important contribution to the sector and to tackling the prevailing data gap. Future versions could include stand-alone interactive features and qualitative materials to bring the findings to life in more user-friendly and shareable formats.
- There are opportunities for ASGM stakeholders to work with Delve and marshal resources and content about particular themes or geographical areas.
Other platforms designed to share knowledge about ASM:
Knowledge sharing in the ASM sector is generally challenged by low levels of trust and a lack of collaboration. The fact that the sector’s sources of funding are limited has discouraged sharing results, data, and lessons learned.
The following online platforms are designed to help address this challenge. Some are exclusively dedicated to ASM, others include it as a part of the mining sector.
The Extractives Hub aims to simplify the search for relevant, up-to-date and trustworthy information about the extractives sector by providing analysis, reports, and data in one platform. A helpdesk responds to requests from government officials for short-term technical assistance and custom research. The Hub includes 16 chapters about ASM, covering key topics about mining practices and other supply chain issues. The Extractives Hub issues monthly newsletters, which generally include a section about ASM.
Following the end of the World Bank’s Communities and Small-Scale Mining (CASM) initiative, its website was closed down and all the resources (reports, papers, and data) were lost and links in many ASM publications became broken. A veteran supporter of the sector took it upon himself to purchase the expired CASM domain and restore its contents. This was done to avoid “harm to a sector already plagued by marginalization [including poor knowledge management]” and “be part and a network node of global ASM knowledge hub initiatives.” Since then, more resources have been added in a simple list format.
Supported by the Dutch government, the Women’s Rights and Mining portal is the result of collaboration between NGOs, researchers, and government organizations to address gender issues in the ASM sector. It has been working since 2017 to create guidance materials for different minerals aimed at audiences across the supply chain. This collective also organizes advocacy events and supports and endorses projects and campaigns aimed at tackling gender issues in ASM.
Powered by the World Bank and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), GOXI is an online platform to share knowledge, resources, and announcements for those actively working on governance issues in the extractive industries. As of May 2019, GOXI has 4,614 members in all continents. While ASM is one of the topics covered, GOXI is a useful channel to reach policy-makers, practitioners and companies focused on the extraction aspect of the supply chain.
An online platform designed to make information available to miners, consumers, governments and the media. PIM collects information already available in various sources and aims to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences that contribute to formalization and to the social, environmental, legal and technical regulations in force in each country.
3. Promoting human interest stories about miners & communities
A research institute with a 40-year track record in participatory processes, IIED worked towards building consensus on how to reform the ASM sector at the national level through ‘action dialogues,’ based on evidence and the participation of all relevant stakeholders. The dialogues were built on three pillars: research focusing on solutions, stakeholder engagement, and communications. Known as a research organization, IIED wished to challenge misperceptions and the negative reputation of the sector, which it saw as a barrier to dialogue, engagement, participation, and policy reform.
IIED set out to create a series of three digital "long reads" that combined insights from their research with examples of community agency and positive practices, with the objective of providing an alternative narrative about ASM. It was important that the stories drew on a solid evidence base befitting a research institute, captured perspectives and positive actions led by miners and communities, and provided a counterintuitive storyline that sparked interest and a sense of optimism about the sector. Producing the stories required appropriate resources to gather high quality multimedia material, a good understanding of the sector to discern actual good practices, as well as the contacts to identify positive examples and persuade miners and communities to participate.
The ‘long reads’ were created with global policy audiences in mind, including those in the ASM sector and those in the wider sustainable development community, which does not always accept ASM as a legitimate potentially sustainable sector. The stories were shared through social media campaigns, newsletters, and targeted emails. In addition, short booklets were created to make the information available to national audiences, particularly the communities featured, which might not have had access to the internet to see the long read. These were size A5, consisted of 16 pages, and featured striking photographs.
- The ‘long reads’ performed better than research reports and other knowledge products. This approach and format – combining evidence with individuals’ stories – may be useful when considering the best ways to disseminate lessons and knowledge from ASM programs and projects. It is worth noting that ‘long reads’ of this type require considerable time and resource investment to write and to produce the necessary multimedia content.
- Turning particular players from across the supply chain, in this case miners, into the main characters of a story can help other players understand and relate better.
- The stories are timeless, so they lend themselves to different promotional pushes, campaigns, and ‘recycling’
- Investment in high quality multimedia offered a good return. Good images are needed to earn credibility and ‘shares’ in social media. Having different forms of online content – images, videos, and stories – allows ASGM organizations to repeat core messages in different formats, thereby increasing their chances of uptake among audiences.
- Establish a tone and style for the images and content so these are aligned to the strategic objective of the final product. Many people choose ASM images based on what’s visually striking, which more often than not will feature poor practices and elicit a sense of hopelessness given the harshness of the activity. This kind of picture tells a different story – one that may be reinforcing existing negative perceptions. Don’t forget that many people will only see the images and headings and not read the text, so making sure that the pictures tell a standalone story is important too.
- Though not created for this purpose, the booklets were used by government officials to explain positive aspects of ASM to their peers. IIED received positive feedback from contacts in government, who prefer a simple, highly visual product that can be shared in an informal conversation. This can be followed by a report or other information, but booklets of this type are helpful to open up the possibility of a positive discussion about the sector.
- As part of a similar, previous project, the booklets were taken back to the community whose stories were featured. Community events were organized to showcase the story and video messages from readers were shared. This encouraged buy-in from community members to the future national dialogues. It also helped show miners that their stories matter to audiences in far corners from the world.
As a miner-centered organization, the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) aims to show the impact of its work among miners and communities. There is also a sense that the effort and contribution of responsible miners are not always known. This lack of recognition can discourage a continued commitment to responsible ASM as well as new interest from other miners.
During regular visits to mining sites, ARM conducts a series of interviews with miners to capture their particular stories. These include information about how long they have been mining, why they got into mining, why they became interested in responsible ASM practices, and why they pursue them when informality is rife. The stories provide a window into the personal stories and aspirations of miners, whose lives can seem unfathomable to those in other parts of the supply chain. The stories are written in Spanish and translated into English. They are accompanied by some photography. The stories are shared through social media and ARM’s newsletters.
- These stories are among the few attempts at introducing miners as human beings with aspirations, worries, families, and the desire to earn a living respectably and lawfully. This ‘humanization’ of miners is an effective communications strategy to challenge the perception that miners are ‘villains’ or individuals with no interest in doing ‘the right thing.’
- Feedback from jewelers, Fairmined licensees, and donors has been very positive. These three groups have shared the stories with their respective stakeholders through their own communication channels.
- The production of stories is always limited by budget. In this case, the stories lack multimedia content, particularly video, though some professional images are available when time and resources allow.
- ARM has been using the interviews for this research as an opportunity to explore and brainstorm potential actions to improve the stories series and their dissemination. Some ideas include: ‘recycling’ the stories more often through social media; if funds do not cover video-making costs, considering other ways to make the stories more visually appealing; creating a booklet featuring a collection of stories to share with new mining communities and other stakeholders; encouraging other ARM staff members to share the stories with their own networks instead of only relying on the official external communications channels; considering changing the name of the series to something more memorable and easier to find through a search.
The Golden Line is an initiative of Simavi, Solidaridad and Healthy Entrepreneurs to economically empower women in and around ASGM communities in Ghana and Tanzania. The program has a strong communications component aiming to make female ASM entrepreneurs more visible and recognized to elicit greater support for them.
At the 2019 OECD Forum for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains, the Golden Line hosted a photo exhibition featuring portraits and brief testimonials of some of the women involved in the program. The exhibition was placed at the main entrance to the building so all OECD staff had to walk by it for a week. Many conference participants took ‘selfies’ holding golden ribbons and placed them next to the women’s portraits as a sign of solidarity.
- While photo exhibitions are not new, they are few and far between in the ASM sector. They can be an effective way of showing the realities and possibility of those in and around ASM communities.
- It was particularly useful to show the exhibition at this Forum, since it complemented the gender discussions held in several sessions – and it benefitted from the presence of about 1,500 stakeholders involved in mineral supply chains.
Pact has set up the first Instagram account solely dedicated to responsible ASM practices. The images focus on positive examples of community agency and explain how ASM connects to the broader supply chain. There are also some examples of ‘how to’ produce ASM minerals. Photos are generally collected by the Pact team working on ASGM, while visiting mines and communities.
- Instagram is an excellent channel to connect with new audiences, particularly consumers. It is more widely used to reach potential customers and to promote causes. Its credibility and use is growing faster than any other social media channel.
- Quality content on Instagram will appeal to Gen Z/Millennial consumers, a major target for companies.
- By featuring photos of community agency and commitment to good practices, Pact.Rocks contributes to tackling negative perceptions in a simple, yet effective format.
- Posting ‘how to’ short videos explaining how ASM minerals are produced is an excellent practice. Videos that explain how to create something are among the most popular and widely shared assets in social media.
4. Influencing governments, buyers and other actors in the supply chain
Fairtrade includes gold as one of the commodities it supports. They support miners who have obtained Fairtrade Gold certification to sell their gold to jewelers and other buyers. As a program, Fairtrade Gold’s audiences are diverse and each has particular needs and interests, ranging from miners to gold buyers and jewelers, all the way to Fairtrade volunteer campaigners advocating to local groups.
Following consultation with buyers and jewelers, Fairtrade Gold realized that gold buyers needed help sensitizing their own staff on ASM issues and created an online course called ‘Ambassadors.' The course is free and open to all and provides a series of modules explaining key aspects of the sector that a salesperson may need in order to explain ASM to a potential customer. The course has been mostly promoted to Fairtrade licensees and goldsmiths, as their objective is to upskill sales staff. At the end of 2018, 172 separate businesses had used the platform with approximately 300 staff completing the program.
Similarly, their consultation with buyers and jewelers showed that they prefer not to receive ‘finished stories’, which was Fairtrade Gold's previous approach. Instead, they prefer to receive materials (photos, quotes, data) that they can use to create their own stories in their own tone and style. Fairtrade Gold has since developed an online library of resources for licensees, which includes information about how to use the Fairtrade mark.
Fairtrade Gold has also developed a range of materials for their volunteer campaigners in 2017, including an action guide which was distributed to about 6,000 campaigners. This enables Fairtrade Gold to take its message to local groups in communities, churches, and schools. Lastly, Fairtrade Gold has commissioned professional photography, including a series by Ian Berry which toured the UK in 2017.
- Understanding and responding to audiences’ preferences is one of the key lessons from the Fairtrade Gold experience. They regularly consult their supply chain stakeholders, which include manufacturers, brands, and independent jewelers and respond expediently with refreshed material.
- Their approach to B2B (business to business) communications is consistent with what this research has identified as preferred by businesses. For example, clear and straightforward overviews of how to engage with Fairtrade and greater emphasis on existing partners to foster greater confidence and credibility.
- They regularly review their own practices and make changes to their communications materials. Their next batch of B2C materials will:
- Move away from poverty-centric messages and imagery that emphasizes the more negative aspects of ASM
- Focus more on the benefits of Fairtrade Gold, couched in more aspirational language, such as ‘the beauty of Fairtrade Gold’
- Focus images and stories more on the miners themselves and their pride as responsible producers, rather than the improvements made to the physical mine site itself
- Aim to develop a sense of consumer pride, avoiding spurring guilt however inadvertently, and encouraging consumers to ‘enjoy doing the right thing’
- Their review of communications aimed at campaigners has resulted in the following observations:
- While there is interest from campaigners in Fairtrade Gold, gold is purchased very infrequently. It’s easier for campaigners to encourage consumers to switch cheaper goods, such as a chocolate bar, than it is to switch their jewelry purchases. Since these decisions are made much less frequently, it becomes harder for the message to be amplified.
- The choice of Fairtrade Gold products is firstly based on how products look, and then secondly on ethical consumption issues. Campaigners can ask consumers to choose Fairtrade Gold, but they ultimately need to like the item of jewelry that they will invest in.
Public opinion about ASM in Latin America is very negative and discourages governments from supporting the sector. The public tends to conflate ASM that is informal, and in many cases working towards formalization, with small-scale mining operating illegally, with no interest in formalization and often linked to criminal interests and groups. In parallel, governments in the region lack the necessary knowledge, evidence, and data to create better policies and make better decisions about ASM. Equally, many Latin American media outlets are very critical of ASM and lack knowledge of the sector’s potential. While there are repositories of information about mining in the region, these do not provide sufficient information about the support needed by the sector, they tend to be highly critical of the sector’s environmental performance, or they do not make a distinction between large-scale mining and ASM.
Approach: With support from the government of The Netherlands, Solidaridad Peru’s mining team created PIM (Plataforma Integral de Minería or Integrated Platform on Mining), an online platform designed to make information available to miners, consumers, governments and the media. PIM aims to collect information available from various sources and outlets and promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences that contribute to formalization, according to the social, environmental, legal and technical policies and regulations in force in each country. Resources are organized according to themes and include publications in both English and Spanish. Information on Solidaridad’s projects is also featured on PIM.
- By branding itself as a resource to support formalization and policy-making, PIM has pitched its offer to governments looking for solutions to the challenges posed by unregulated ASM. Many publications, resources, and debates are very critical of governments when it comes to ASM, whether because of ineffective policies, poor oversight of the sector, or even the criminalization of the sector. However, PIM aims to provide an impartial platform that offers proactive recommendations and resources for governments and policy-makers. This has enabled PIM to develop positive working relationships with government officials in Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
- PIM is also fielding questions from the media. The most common questions are about the difference between informal and illegal mining, and about the different ways of mining artisanally or in small scale (e.g. mechanized mining in small-scale mines, underground or alluvial mining, manual selection of material from mine dumps, etc) and the different regulatory regimes for each.
“10 Do’s (or how to make your supply chain more gender-sensitive)” - Women’s Rights and Mining Group
With greater interest in ‘green minerals’ for renewable energy and responsible supply chains, many large companies are engaging more often and directly with the ASM sector. However, many of these organizations are not familiar with gender issues in ASM. In addition, companies consume information in different ways, and importantly will need to be introduced to the issues and convinced of the need for them to take action.
Approach: Following consultation with companies, the Women’s Rights and Mining Group developed their “ten do’s” leaflet. It aims to inform companies about the key gender issues in ASM and provide top-level suggestions about what they could do to help achieve gender equality in the sector. While they may seem oversimplified to some audiences, they were well received by Dutch companies and sparked positive conversations, follow-up actions by companies, and one new partnership.
- Using ‘listicles’ and memorable titles is a useful approach
- Once again, understanding your audiences and responding to their needs and interests pays. In the case of companies, it’s helpful to:
- State a clear business case: why should the business be involved?
- Be clear about their potential role: companies want to know exactly what is expected of them so they can seek approval and/or decide
- Provide practical information: be clear about how you propose to work together and what are the next steps
These case examples are part of a broader research product produced for planetGOLD on best practices in communications in the ASM sector.
The author, Gabriela Flores, is a communications specialist with 12 years of experience in communications in the artisanal and small-scale mining sector.
With thanks to the following key individuals and organizations for their participation:
Alerta Minero; Alliance for Responsible Mining/Fairmined; Anna Loucah, ethical jeweler and founding member of Fair Luxury; Anne-Marie Fleury, former director of standards and impacts, Responsible Jewellery Council; Astrid Villegas, Communications Officer, Pact’s Somos Tesoro program, Colombia; Ban Toxics; Better Gold Initiative; Caroline Ngonze, Programme Specialist, ACP-EU Development Minerals Programme (implemented by the UNDP); Cathy Sturgeon, Program Manager, Artisanal Gold Council; CIRDI; Corinne Reilly, writer with Pact global communications team; David Finlay, Responsible Minerals Manager, Fairtrade Gold; Extractives Hub; GOXI; IMPACT; International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED); Kevin Telmer, Executive Director, Artisanal Gold Council; Maria Pujol, Communications Lead, Alliance for Responsible Mining; Molly Derrick, Director of Integrated Communications, Pact; Oscar Baldeón, communications officer, Solidaridad Peru; Richard Gutierrez, former Ban Toxics director; Rosalind Goodrich, research communications manager, IIED; Virginie Bahon, Corporate Affairs and Communications, Valcambi; Yrene Coli Rivera, Donor Relations Manager, Solidaridad