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Guest Article: How Civil Society Can Accelerate Positive SDG Impacts in Mining Communities | SDG Knowledge Hub

By Cristina M. Villegas, Director of Responsible Mining, Pact

To address the mining sector’s toughest challenges and achieve progress on the SDGs, diverse civil society engagement and participation matter more than ever. The role of international and local civil society has broadened in ways that can increase trust and cooperation across the mining industry and quicken the attainment of the SDGs. More and more, diverse types of organizations have begun taking on the language of business, sourcing, voluntary standards, and finance to influence the mining sector at different points. This article describes four key trends in those expanded approaches.

Trend #1: Creating new standards and expectations  

Civil society such as nonprofits, associations, trade unions, and others has been involved in mining and community conversations for hundreds of years, and its joint work on global guidelines is notable. Civil society’s involvement in the mining sector has helped raise and answer the question: what does responsible engagement with communities in mineral supply chains look like? At the global level, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas in 2011, following nearly ten years of campaigning by NGOs using consumer movements and traditional legal advocacy. 

Diverse civil society around the world have also co-created and tested mining standards or guidelines that apply specifically to artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) producers, such as CRAFT, the Fairmined Standard for Gold and Associated Precious Metals, Maendeleo Diamond Standards, Fairtrade Gold, and the Ranchi Principles for Mica. Gradually, the world’s responsible companies are beginning to engage with these initiatives as they look for traceable supplies with measurable and positive impacts.

Trend #2: Focusing on practical guidance and action   

Moving outside of a “name and shame” role, civil society is engaged deeply in the practicalities of improving mining’s role in achieving the SDGs. Within larger-scale mining (LSM) contexts, Engineers Without Borders, Mining Shared Value, and the World Bank have developed measurement tools on maximizing economic benefits in local communities through economic links such as “local content” strategies, which emphasize purchasing services and goods from local businesses. Such efforts support local communities and contribute to SDG 1 (no poverty).

Civil society groups, such as the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) and the Fairtrade Foundation have spearheaded efforts to create minimum prices for participating ASM gold miners who have achieved the Fairmined and Fairtrade standards, respectively. In addition to setting a guaranteed minimum price, ASM mining communities receive a development grant to benefit the whole area. 

Pure Earth, the Artisanal Gold Council, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the ARM, Pact, and Planet Gold have worked on reducing mercury in mining and raising awareness of the impacts of mercury on human health, contributing to SDG 3 (good health and well-being).

Academics and practitioners have long acknowledged the presence of both men and women on ASM mining sites, yet little was published about the women miners. Currently, there are numerous projects focused on women miners, such as those run by ARM, Impact-Transform, Pact, Solidaridad, the Zimbabwean Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA), and – increasingly – women’s mining associations themselves, that help achieve gender equality (SDG 5). 

Further, both domestic and international civil society are working at the field level to advance key ASM formalization agendas – the multi-step process that “can include the introduction of legal and regulatory frameworks, providing legal access to minerals, information about geological data, organizing miners into flexible and dynamic organizations, and providing access to capital, equipment, and technical assistance” – to support SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth).  

Many civil society groups of every size are also working to reduce conflict in and around large and small mine sites, supporting SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions). On large mine sites, for example, peacebuilding takes the form of conflict mitigation and ensuring consent before a commercial mine begins its operations. 

Trend #3: Offering new products for consumers  

Several influential non-profits are engaged in bringing “fair” or “responsible” materials to the market to drive consumer awareness and demand for products from small-scale producers, such as ASM. Typically, these branded products arrive with the associated non-profit’s assurance that the material has been mined, processed, and traded in a responsible way, such as through fair labor practices or other aspects of the ‘10 Principles of Fair Trade.’

Some initiatives remain “behind the scenes” to consumers and are operational without a clear brand. One example is the International Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCI) system, a collaboration between Pact and the International Tin Association, which traces and documents the vast majority of Central African tin and tantalum.  

Trend #4: Increasing localization of civil society movements   

One of the most interesting and positive trends with almost all types of civil society active in the mining space – regardless of whether the group is advocacy oriented or geared towards implementation – is the increasing, proactive localization to involve national experts. 

The emergence of human rights advocacy groups such as Haki Madini (meaning “Resource Rights”) in Tanzania, the Zimbabwean Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA), local and regional implementation leadership, and the rise of miner associations around the world represent new voices that contribute to improving the social performance and accountability of the mining sector and support the SDGs. Pact currently works in partnership with five national mining associations and sees it as the future of its work.

There is a Mozambican proverb that says “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  As the world searches for ways to get the SDGs “back on track,” in far flung areas, it is civil society that is already playing an outsized role.

The article is based on a chapter, “Civil society and mining: an era of expanded approaches and voices will accelerate SDG impacts,” published in the Routledge Handbook of the Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development.


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