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Changing the narrative on poverty in mineral rich African countries

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9 February, 2023Artisanal small-scale miners in Sub Saharan Africa mine high value minerals including cobalt, gold and manganese. Yet their mining operations remain mainly informal and dangerous.

Even where artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is formalized through national laws and policies, implementation remains weak. This has resulted in life threatening working conditions with limited health and safety adherence. The miners do not get value for their minerals and continue to live in poverty while digging for high value minerals.

An IndustriALL Global Union panel at the Mining Indaba on 8 February, Artisanal and small-scale mining and stakeholder convergence of interests to mitigate ESG impacts on miners – policy challenges and approaches to formalization, discussed how formalization can benefit the ASM sector and the role that unions play in organizing the miners.

The DRC, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Zambia, and Zimbabwe are some of the countries with the minerals needed for the transition to renewable energy. About ten per cent of the cobalt mined in the DRC is from ASM, counting about 200,000 miners, according to PACT DRC.

“ASM is important for the global mineral supply and local job creation. But natural resources governance must improve. The DRC ranks low on Human Development Index with low life expectancy, poverty, sexual exploitation, human rights violations, modern slavery and debt bondage. A country rich in mineral resources with millions living in poverty is unacceptable,”

said Luc Asosa, programme director, PACT DRC.

“ASM can be a game changer, and this means adopting ILO Recommendation 204 on the transition from informal to formal economy. That would allow the sector to deal with environmental, social issues, human rights, decent work, and other deficits,”

said Abdul-Moomin Gbana, Ghana Mine Workers Union general secretary.
Fletcher Mushimbwa, Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) national coordinator, said:

“Although artisanal and small-scale miners are illegal, the union sees them as workers creating employment and livelihoods for communities, thus contributing to local economies. We advocate for formalization and have started building union power by organizing the miners.”

Gender expert Bashiratu Kamal explained that the sector’s many women are invisible.

“Although women are involved in buying and processing the ore, there are no bathrooms and water at mine sites, no contracts or fair wages, no maternity protection, no access to newer technologies, no social protection, or laws to protect women. Formalization can help redress this situation.”

“With over nine million ASM miners supporting 54 million people, this is an important sector for job creation and improvement of livelihoods on the continent. Formalization of the sector will further facilitate the organizing of these workers into unions,”

said Tendai Makanza, IndustriALL regional officer and panel chair.

This, and an earlier panel discussion on beyond climate, puts IndustriALL on the global stage with an influential audience that normally lacks access to real experiences of workers, thus opening spaces for further dialogue and collaboration.