Most artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) activity is informal. This does not necessarily mean that it is unstructured, but that it takes place largely outside the scope of government regulations. This reflects an important distinction between informal and illegal ASGM activity. When mining activities are explicitly prohibited by law, they may be considered illegal. When miners operate in an environment where there are no legal frameworks governing ASGM, the activity may be considered informal.
In order to prioritize assisting miners with identifying technical and financial solutions to improve their operations, planetGOLD is primarily working with mining communities that are well along in the formalization process. The planetGOLD programme is creating mechanisms by which ASGM communities and governments can increasingly share, access, and use information, technical materials, guidance, and lessons learned on formalization to support reduced mercury use and foster sustainable development.
The challenges of working in an informal sector
The informal status of many mining communities makes it difficult to organize and educate miners and mining communities on the risks of using mercury. The status of the sector also makes it hard to invest in technological and social solutions to reduce and eliminate mercury use. Informality also leaves the sector vulnerable to corruption and criminal influence, while leaving miners and their communities without legal protections.
Contributing to ongoing informality is the pervasive negative perception of small-scale mining among some governments and the general public, particularly its perceived association with a range of social and environmental problems. However, vilifying or penalizing informal ASGM based on these perceptions is counterproductive because it creates barriers to constructive engagement that can lead to better mining practices.
There is no ‘quick fix’ to the ‘mercury problem’ of ASGM, because it is not a ‘mercury problem’ but a formalization challenge. The only successful way forward is seen in a solid and fair formalization process
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation
A human rights-based approach
The planetGOLD programme follows the human rights-based approach, which prioritizes the application of human rights principles to development activities and focuses on those who are most marginalized, excluded, or discriminated against. In the context of ASGM, the adoption of this approach focuses attention on the rights and duties of both ASGM actors and the government. This means that the rights of individuals working across the ASGM supply chain are respected, protected, and fulfilled—and that governments and other organizations are held accountable and supported in their duties to observe and protect these rights.
The importance of formalization
Formalization—the process of integrating ASGM into the formal economy, society, and regulatory system—is a critical step toward helping address these challenges and achieve the sector’s development potential. Bringing miners into the focal economy can bring about higher incomes and better working conditions, while helping to overcome social and environmental challenges.
Formalization may include reforming the legal status of ASGM as well as formulating policies, building capacity, and increasing provision of services among a variety of agencies and institutions (such as mining, education, environmental, labor, and health) that address different dimensions of ASGM.