THE TIME IS NOW TO SUPPORT ARTISANAL MINERS


The time is now for the mining industry to intensify efforts to support the artisanal and small-scale mining sector

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a host of challenges for the mining industry. However, limited focus has been placed on arguably the most vulnerable members of the industry – artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM).  Not only does the ASM sector play an important role within the wider industry, it also provides critical employment and development opportunities for rural communities, with an estimated 150 million people across the globe directly or indirectly depending on ASM for their livelihoods.

Despite its significance, many parts of the ASM sector remain largely informal and often lack formal access to markets or fair value for their production. Anglo American and De Beers have been staunch supporters of the formalisation of the ASM sector for a number of years. In 2017, De Beers Group launched the GemFair pilot programme in Sierra Leone, focused on creating a secure, transparent route to market for ethically-sourced ASM diamonds. By providing artisanal miners who meet GemFair’s minimum operating standards with access to De Beers’ industry-leading distribution channel, offering fair prices and delivering ongoing training to improve standards, GemFair has real potential to be a catalyst for change in the sector, thereby helping to improve livelihoods and working conditions.

The GemFair solution combines dedicated software (an app) and hardware (a diamond valuation ‘toolkit’) that enables the digital tracing of ethically-sourced ASM diamonds from the individual mine site where they were discovered and throughout the supply chain. Our approach also requires participants to abide by strict standards, which align with the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains, that assure mining and business practices are carried out in an ethical manner. Now in its third year of operations in Sierra Leone, GemFair has already made significant progress in helping formalise the artisanal diamond mining sector.
 
GemFair’s diamond toolkit include a tablet, a scale, a hand loupe and secure bags to ensure the traceability of every diamond bought by GemFair.

GemFair is focused on supporting the long-term prospects of the sector and believes this is best achieved by establishing a route to market that has a commercially sustainable future. This involves paying fair value, empowering and educating members about diamond valuation, providing access to De Beers Group’s industry leading distribution channel, and ultimately, being a fair business actor in a sector where fairness is not commonplace. In turn, miners participating in GemFair are incentivised to seek continuous improvement in raising their business, operating and environmental standards in order to remain part of the programme, with compliance monitored on a regular basis.

Another important focus for GemFair is building broad coalitions with governments and international development institutions to further widen our impact. Last year we began a collaboration with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Mano River Union (MRU) for the development and delivery of a training programme that promotes safe and responsible ASM operating standards in the MRU member countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

However, the economic, social and governance impacts of the pandemic will be felt in the ASM sector long after the virus has been brought under control.  As a result of the disruption of global supply chains, many artisanal miners have been unable to sell their products. Moreover, with the movement of people and household essentials restricted from crossing regional borders, food prices have been rising rapidly, and many people are finding it increasingly difficult to feed their families.

Since the early stages of the pandemic, our team on the ground has been in constant contact with the more than 100 artisanal mine sites we work with in the Kono region of Sierra Leone to better understand the impact COVID-19 has had on their operations and their livelihoods.

We learned early on that food supplies and items required for maintaining personal hygiene were the miners’ greatest need, with more than 95 per cent saying that the amount of food available to eat had decreased since the start of the crisis.

We immediately set up a community response team that has been providing food and basic provisions to approximately 1,188 artisanal miners and their dependents in the areas that we are active since the beginning of the pandemic. We have also provided a substantial donation of crucial medical supplies to hospitals in the region, including gowns, masks and gloves.
 
Fanta, an artisanal miner participating in the GemFair programme, receives the monthly allocation of GemFair’s COVID-19 relief food aid for herself and her family.

Yet as important as this immediate assistance is, only a small percentage of artisanal miners globally will receive humanitarian support through responses like GemFair’s. It is thus imperative that as an industry, we pull together and renew our commitment to finding solutions to help the ASM sector rebuild stronger and more resilient after the crisis.

We are proud of GemFair’s progress to date and we remain deeply committed to furthering its impact in line with De Beers Group’s recently announced goal to deliver scalable solutions to improve the livelihoods of artisanal miners by 2030, as part of its 2030 Building Forever sustainability goals. This will see us continue to expand and scale the GemFair programme within Sierra Leone and new regions, while also encouraging the industry to source responsibly from artisanal miners by working with partners in industry, government and society, as well as continuing to amplify the voice of miners within the sector.

Ultimately, we are only as strong as our weakest link and now more than ever, we must show the world that we not only care, but that we are also ready to step up to the challenge of supporting the most vulnerable members of our industry.
 
Written by Konstantin Born, Business Development Manager, GemFair
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