The mining industry is often affiliated with large-scale operations and massive capital investments, but it is the small scale miners that form the bulk of the sector. Artisanal miners — mainly in developing countries — number between 30 and 50 million worldwide and their livelihoods from excavating the earth account for a significant portion of select minerals such as tin, tantalum and precious stones.
By definition, mining is an unsustainable practice because it taps into finite resources. But the livelihoods and local economies that it promotes can be managed responsibly and in a sustainable way. Governments and civil society groups have taken up that cause.
This year marks five years since the passage of the controversial Dodd-Frank Act. A sweeping overhaul of U.S banking regulations following the financial crisis, the act also contained an amendment requiring publicly listed companies to provide detailed reports on the origin of “3T” minerals — tin, tungsten and tantalum — sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that are used in their products.
The amendment was intended to boost transparency and crack down on the number of so-called conflict minerals whose proceeds have historically fueled conflict in the region that make their way into Western markets. It has achieved measurable results. According to international NGO Pact — an implementing partner of a monitoring system that traces conflict minerals — more than 90 percent of central African tin and almost half of the world’s tantalum are deemed conflict-free.
But Dodd-Frank Act has also been the target of fierce criticism. Researchers, journalists and aid workers say that the legislation grossly misinterprets the relationship between mining activities and the origins of the long-standing conflict in the DRC.
And to ease the consciences of Western consumers, thousands of artisanal miners are paying the price of lower demand and reduced earnings. Further downstream, equipment manufacturers face hefty compliance costs imposed by Dodd-Frank which affects their procurement of minerals from the DRC region.
While much of the criticism of Dodd-Frank is deserved and civil society continues to advocate for a more equitable application of the amendment, it has drawn attention to the need for greater accountability and traceability across a wider set livelihood issues affecting artisanal miners.
Monitoring conflict minerals is an important area, but child labor issues, educational access, women’s rights and community advocacy are also areas where civil society can engage with artisanal miners to promote healthy ecosystems around extractive industries. Devex interviewed a number of experts on artisanal mining issues to see how the sector has shaped up in the years since Dodd-Frank, but also the areas that still need to be addressed.
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Naki is a reporter for Devex Impact based in Washington, D.C., where he covers the intersection of business and international development. Prior to Devex he was a Latin America reporter for Energy Intelligence covering corporate investments and political risks in the region’s energy sector. His previous assignments abroad have posted him throughout Europe, South America and Australia.
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