Better Working Conditions Can Improve Safety and Productivity of Artisanal and Small-Scale Miners Around the World

The report, "2020 State of the Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining Sector," examines artisanal and small-scale mining’s contribution to achieving the SDG8: promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. The report finds that informality of the sector, an ongoing problem that affects around 90 percent of ASM activity, leaves artisanal workforces around the globe exposed to dangerous working conditions. From landslides to mercury exposure to intense manual rock crushing, miners enter the work site most days under-protected. These vulnerabilities have only been heightened by the socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Artisanal miners saw reduced incomes resulting from temporary mine closures, a drop in mineral prices, and reduced access to work caused by severe disruptions of global mineral supply chains which rely on ASM-sourced materials.

“The poor working conditions faced by artisanal workers have been disproportionately compounded further by their vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic due to limited access to health and social infrastructure. The commitment of governments and companies to ensuring their health, safety and well-being is now more important than ever,” said Demetrios Papathanasiou, World Bank Global Director for Energy and Extractives. “This new report demonstrates how holistic approaches to improve the working conditions of artisanal miners can boost sustainable and inclusive growth, with greater job creation and poverty reduction.”

The report shows that 40 years ago, the world’s large-scale mining industry was just as unsafe as artisanal and small-scale mining. However, today, large-scale mining is one of the world’s most safety conscious industries. The report underscores the important role that increased mechanization and concerted efforts to improve health and safety played in the dramatic improvements in the large-scale industry. It finds that if the same concerted efforts to improve large scale mining’s working conditions were deployed by governments, sourcing companies, and end-user manufacturers, the occupational health and safety record of ASM could also improve substantially.

Artisanal miners supply a wide variety of minerals that are critical to modern communication technologies, low-carbon and clean energy technologies, and luxury jewelry goods. Despite the sector’s significant contribution to livelihoods and economic growth, artisanal workers are often overlooked in discussions on how best to advance promotion of decent work and economic growth. 

The report provides six key reflections on how governments, especially resource-rich developing countries, the private sector, and civil society organizations can best advance the decent work agenda within ASM. The report is published by Delve, an initiative by the World Bank's Extractives Global Programmatic Support (EGPS) Trust Fund in partnership with Pact.