1. Defining and characterising ASM
Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) provides an essential livelihood for over 150 million people worldwide.
Its operations are characterised by low-tech, labour intensive mineral processing and extraction. This is especially true when compared to large-scale mining which is highly mechanised, and has industrial and capital-intensive operations that are usually run by multinational companies.The sector is characterised by low barriers to entry, complex operations and widespread informality. ASM activities vary considerably at both global and local scales; they provide employment for a wide range of people, but most miners do not have a license and therefore cannot benefit from legal protection.
There is therefore no globally accepted nor relevant definition of ASM. Instead, the mineral and mining laws of countries where activities are commonplace define operations in different ways, such as by size and extent of the mine site, the number of workers, type of equipment being used, or amount and/or value of minerals extracted.
ASM operations employ a wide range of often poor people working in a variety of roles, depending upon local settings and geology. Types of roles include bookkeepers, security guards, general labourers, skilled machine operators and supervisors. The backgrounds of people engaged in ASM are often diverse. These vary from families and individuals, often with low education levels, to young students funding their school and university education. There are also experienced miners made redundant from large scale operations, as well as larger groups of itinerant labourers comprising men, women, and children.
Labour is organised in many different ways at ASM sites across the world, and varies at global, regional, national, and even local scales. In some cases, one or a few people will lead and mange operations hiring large pools of labour or subcontracting to other mine managers. At other sites, small groups of labourers (5–10 people) will come together in ‘gangs’ pooling resources and sharing the proceeds. Some miners also organise into formal cooperatives. Individual miners can also be found panning for gold and diamonds.