Minera Artisanal San Luis S.A. (MARTSAL)

Solidaridad South America

The worldwide gold mining sector is facing many serious challenges, such as hard and unsafe working conditions for artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM). Their daily job involves high levels of risk from mercury poisoning and collapsing mine shafts. Meanwhile, they often lack proper work uniforms and protective equipment.

Miner at work at the San Luis mine site

Solidaridad and its partners strive for responsible gold production and improving the livelihoods and working conditions of ASM miners. In the course of implementing its Gold Programme in 2009-2013, Solidaridad has provided technical support to the Minera Artisanal San Luis S. A. gold mine (MARTSAL), located in the Ayacucho region of Peru. This mining company has now achieved a formal status according to the Peruvian formalization process. It is currently also working towards attaining a Fairmined-certification status. A certification audit is planned for December 2017.

The challenges of artisanal and small-scale mining

In the mining regions of Peru, many artisanal and small-scale miners are facing hard labour conditions and many workers are not formally recognized by the Peruvian government. In addition, an often forgotten group of miners are the pallaqueras. These are predominantly women who collect low-grade minerals from waste discarded by miners and sell it to the mine for processing.

Pallaqueras are not recognized by the Peruvian government as legal workers either. Their work is hard and their earnings are low. Meanwhile, many of them lack any form of protective work equipment (such as gloves for collecting mineral waste) and they often have little choice but to bring small children with them to work. There are often few alternatives for the pallaqueras to earn a living, and many come to the mine processing sites from various regions of the country, driven by poverty. For more information about the pallaqueras, you can also consult this article on the Solidaridad South America website (in Spanish).

Miners at work at the San Luis mine site

Improved mining operations

In the course of its Gold Programme, Solidaridad has worked with a number of mining associations in Peru to address these problems. Among these mines is San Luis. This mine is located in the San Luis Alta community in Ayacucho. It works with 144 partners and employs 65 workers, seven of whom are women. Its monthly gold production amounts to around 2-3 kilograms.

With the support from Solidaridad, San Luis has been able to undergo a number of significant improvements in its operations. It is now industrialized with an improved electric and safety system inside the mine. In addition, a cyanide warehouse has been implemented.

Notably, San Luis has stopped using mercury in ore processing. The miners now use a metallurgical process instead, which involves the implementation of a vat leaching system with cyanide, duly controlled by an experienced engineer. The final product is activated carbon. As mercury is a highly toxic substance for both people and the environment, the fact that the mine no longer uses mercury in ore extraction is an important achievement.

Supporting better livelihoods

The mine has a working agreement with the pallaqueras. The working conditions and livelihoods of the pallaqueras have improved significantly as a result of this project. They are now using personal protective equipment at work, which is essential for their health and safety. Pallaqueras have also made progress towards formalization.

Human rights and operational health and safety are now high on the priority list at San Luis. In addition, the mine is interested in coming into contact with potential gold buyers, hereby addressing the last step in the sustainable supply chain of gold.

Towards Fairmined certification

Solidaridad has been supporting San Luis with the implementation of the Fairmined standard in its mining and processing operations. One important achievement towards this goal is that San Luis is now operating as a formalized mining company. The audit is currently planned to take place in December 2017.

Fairmined certification is an international standard used for promoting and carrying out responsible gold mining practices, which include formal and legal mining operations, human and labour rights, health and safety practices at mining sites, and safeguarding the environment.  

Back to the Solidaridad gold programme