Minera Yanaquihua (MYSAC)

Solidaridad South America

The worldwide gold mining sector is facing many serious challenges. In the mining regions of Peru, many artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) and pallaqueras (primarily women who collect low-grade minerals left over by mines) are facing hard and often unsafe labour conditions. In addition, many ASM miners as well as pallaqueras are not formally recognized by the Peruvian government. Solidaridad and its partners strive towards responsible gold production and improving the livelihoods and working conditions of these workers. We also support them in the process of gaining formalization as legal workers.

  • A bird's-eye view of the Minera Yanaquihua (MYSAC) mine site.

  • Mine workers being briefed about operational measures, such as health and safety, before entering the mine for their shift.

  • A miner at work inside the gold lab at Minera Yanaquihua.

  • A pallaquera showing a piece of mineral rock collected at the mine.

  • The result of the hard work: gold nuggets.

  • The gold processing plant at Minera Yanaquihua.

  • A bird's-eye view of the processing plant at MYSAC.

  • A mine worker checking the quality of gold at the processing plant.

  • Nati Chuquiyanqui is a pallaquera at the MYSAC mine site.

  • Pallaquera Rosario Montalvo at work at the MYSAC site.

  • Pallaqueras Rosario Montalvo and Jessica Chavez at work at the MYSAC site, collecting left-over minerals which contain gold.

  • Pedro Rios is a mine worker at Minera Yanaquihua.

  • Pallaquera Rosario Montalvo shows bags of collected left-over minerals at the MYSAC site.

One of Solidaridad’s goals in this partnership was to explore whether it could serve as a replicable model for better cooperation between professional, formal mining companies and the largely informal small-scale miners that often work on and around their concessions. This is important because in most mining regions of the world, there is tension between large and small miners due to competition over land, water and recognition from the government. The tension erupts all too frequently into violence or causes community unrest. This can seriously impact the health and safety of all involved and may also result in major economic losses for local people and the company.

Rosario Montalvo, a pallaquera, at work at the mine site

One of the mines Solidaridad has partnered with in Peru is the Minera Yanaquihua (MYSAC), a mid-sized mining company in the Arequipa region. Our support to MYSAC began in 2010 under a grant from the Adessium Foundation. From December 2013 to March 2017, Solidaridad and its partners further implemented this project with the “Partnering for Better Livelihoods in the Gold Supply Chain” programme in Peru. It forms part of the larger Solidaridad programme to transition to a responsible, inclusive gold mining sector which brings the gold from the mines to the market.

Miners, Solidaridad and Minera Yanaquihua staff in conversation at the mine site

In this project, MYSAC and Solidaridad joined forces to test a new model for cooperation that would result in better livelihoods and better business. Together, they have improved conditions at the company itself and trained the ASM miners in the surrounding communities. Solidaridad has supported them with the formalization process in particular, as well as some important safety and environmental aspects. With assistance from Solidaridad, MYSAC became officially certified in 2014 according to the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) Code of Practices. This certification is quite a unique accomplishment for a mine of this size.

Moreover, this project is an example of a special cooperation between industrial and ASM mining which reduces conflict and speeds up the formalization process for the miners. This programme has demonstrated that the implementation of better practices can improve the core business of both the mining company and of the ASM miners.

The challenges for ASM miners and Pallaqueras

In various regions of the world, artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) often labour under hard and unsafe working conditions. Their daily job involves high levels of risk from mercury poisoning and collapsing mine shafts. Meanwhile, they often lack proper working clothes and protective equipment. The widespread use of mercury, a very toxic substance, in gold extraction is also a health risk.

Nati Chuquiyanqui, a pallaquera, at work at the mine site

Moreover, an often forgotten group in the mining regions of Peru are the pallaqueras. These are primarily women who collect low-grade minerals from waste discarded by miners and sell it to the mine for processing. These women 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 their small children with them to work. There are few other opportunities for these women to earn a living for themselves and their children. Many pallaqueras come from various regions of the country.

Candelaria Escamaita Macha, a pallaquera from the Central Cerro Rico mining community, at work at the mine site. On the right is her eight-year-old son Wanderley. He helps his mother with her work. Candelaria is from the Cotahuasi province in Peru.

Candelaria: “I have been working here for eight years. I came here because there was only poverty in the place I left. There wasn’t any work there. We worked mainly on farms and we didn’t earn enough to feed ourselves. And getting an education for our children was even worse. There isn’t any opportunity. So we had to look for new places where we could find a job. [...] To formalize, we need to earn enough money to sustain ourselves. To get formalized, we need paperwork. With that paperwork, we would get mandatory uniforms to protect ourselves.”

Minera Yanaquihua and the Solidaridad Gold Programme

Minera Yanaquihua is a mid-sized gold mine which has been operational since 2000. The mine employs 145 direct employees and 674 subcontracted workers. MYSAC has participated in Solidaridad’s gold programme between 2014 and 2017. The main aims of the programme were increasing the volume of responsibly produced gold and improving the livelihoods of ASM miners working at MYSAC and the surrounding mining communities.

At the start of the programme, MYSAC was facing a number of operational and business challenges which needed addressing. For instance, they had inherited an historic conflict with the ASM miners on concession (as many as 1000). Further, ASM miners were using mercury in an uncontrolled way, for which the main company was ultimately liable. The rate of training and protective equipment use were too low, there were no emergency shelters or ambulances on site, and informal management systems were leading to inefficiencies.

The provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and training miners in safe and responsible use of mercury in gold extraction were therefore important elements in this project. We also encourage and support artisanal miners with becoming formalized in the mining sector. Formalization would allow them to have a legal working permit and to operate under better and safer working conditions.

At the Minera Yanaquihua mine site

As a result of the programme, MYSAC now works together with three ASM associations from the surrounding communities in Arequipa. These miners’ associations have 646 members altogether. Thanks to participating in this programme and receiving the support from Solidaridad, MYSAC and the ASM associations are now cooperating and have significantly improved their mutual relation.

Watch the video above to learn more about Solidaridad's partnership with Minera Yanaquihua 

An Innovative Approach for Improved Collaboration

With this project, Solidaridad has piloted an innovative approach in the gold sector: it has helped to significantly improve the collaboration between Minera Yanaquihua and ASM miners. This is both quite unique and an important achievement, as industrial mines and artisanal miners often tend to be in conflict with each other. MYSAC and Solidaridad have jointly trained ASM miners in safer and more sustainable mining techniques. In addition, together with MYSAC, we have supported the miners with the formalization process. This process is complicated and usually very costly for the miners to undertake themselves.

Charles Amesquita Soto, artisanal miner (from the Central Cerro Rico mining community). 

Charles: “[...] we would like to thank Solidaridad because their support has been very important for us, especially with regard to training. They have shared knowledge with us about possible paths that we can take [in the formalization process]. If we only depended on the law to guide us, nobody would know which path to take. Solidaridad has supported us in technical issues to help us understand what needs to be done step by step. Solidaridad is making a significant impact in this industry, and we’ll remain very grateful because otherwise we would have expenses that are way out of our reach.”

This successful collaboration between an industrialized mine such as the Minera Yanaquihua and artisanal miners, in this case working as micro-contractors at MYSAC, has been highly beneficial for both the mine and ASM miners. The programme has shown that this innovative, collaborative approach is beneficial to the various stakeholders involved. For formal miners, it means they can better manage their core risks and opportunities, gain a social license to operate, and gain better acceptance from the surrounding communities. As for artisanal miners, they can profit from improved safety and working conditions, and a more stable livelihood through higher income and secured access to land.

The improved collaboration between MYSAC and the ASM miners is in itself fairly unusual. Mining companies tend to be in conflict with artisanal miners; however, when MYSAC took over the running of the mine, they were interested in partnering with Solidaridad and improving the relations with the miners. Solidaridad has helped to facilitate this process during the programme and we see this as one of the biggest successes in our Gold Programme.

MYSAC has also been able to reap the rewards from this improved cooperation with the miners. The former general manager at Minera Yanaquihua, Pavell Galvez, has put it like this at the time of the programme:

“One of the main reasons for our growth [at Minera Yanaquihua] has been the participation of miners as micro-contractors and sellers of the mineral. We have reduced our costs because artisanal miners have very refined and selective practices. Now we can include this gold in our production, which, in other circumstances, would remain in the mountains. Miners, meanwhile, reduce exploration risks, since they work in places where the presence of minerals is known. They also work in safe conditions while making their business grow.”

Support and Training for ASM Miners and Pallaqueras

In the course of the programme, Solidaridad has trained the ASM miners and MYSAC staff about safe and responsible mining techniques, the use of proper working equipment and protective gear, and contributed to improved infrastructure at the mine site. MYSAC employs 145 direct employees and 674 subcontracted workers, whilst the three ASM associations include 646 members in total. MYSAC and Solidaridad have worked with at least 731 miners (including ASM miners and pallaqueras) and provided them with training, Personal Protective Equipment, a grinding machine and other materials which are essential to responsible practices regarding occupational health and safety.

Solidaridad has also supported a group of 85 pallaqueras in becoming legally registered as an association. This is an important step towards becoming formalized as workers, with better and safer working conditions. This remains a complicated process, however, and there is still more work to be done in acquiring a formalized worker status for the pallaqueras. Solidaridad will continue to provide support to the ASM miners, the pallaqueras, and the mining associations in this region.

Eliseo Huamani, formalized miner/general manager: “Now we have a security department that protects workers. We used to improvise and, back then, many accidents could have happened. Now accidents are prevented. All the work inside the mine is being done in a responsible way. That’s why miners work safely and well protected.”

RJC Certification: Suggestions for Improvement

With support from Solidaridad, Minera Yanaquihua was certified in 2014 with the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). The mine is currently working towards attaining recertification with the RJC. Notably, the volume of responsibly produced gold at MYSAC has increased significantly in the recent period. The mine has also established contact with various international gold buyers, which is an important development towards a fully sustainable supply chain. Unfortunately, these buyers are not yet purchasing the gold as RJC-certified. Solidaridad and MYSAC are working together to find the right opportunities and hereby address this final step in the gold supply chain.

In addition, the market also plays a key role. Buyers have to provide the right incentives for a fully traceable supply chain, hereby also taking into account the steps between the mine and the end buyer. The role of the RJC also involves taking the responsibility of increased cooperation with its member companies to expand the membership. This can lead to more smelters and refiners offering opportunities of chain of custody certification.

Decreased Mercury Use

Overall, the use of mercury in the gold extraction process has decreased. Namely, the amount of mercury used in kilograms was reduced by 52% (the programme goal was 40%). Fewer ASM miners are now using mercury in ore extraction. In addition, less mercury in general gets used at MYSAC, which now processes gold in a safer and more responsible manner. Solidaridad, MYSAC and partners (Red Social and GAMA) have provided miners with awareness raising information regarding the dangers of mercury use, which has contributed to this result.

Miguel Idme Machaca, an artisanal miner from the Central Cerro Rico mining community, at a gold processing location. Solidaridad is working with the community on better processing techniques.

 

In total, the number of male ASM miners using mercury has reduced from 400 in 2013 to 344 in 2017. Nevertheless, the overall percentage of ASM miners who continue using mercury still lies at 58% (down from 67%). Notably, the amount of mercury used does differ per mining association. One of the three mining associations have stopped using it altogether in 2015, the other two continue using mercury, though significantly less than at the start of the programme.

Successfully Overcoming Challenges

At least 427 ASM miners from the three associations have become officially registered as legal workers since the start of the programme. Nevertheless, despite the progress made at MYSAC and in the working conditions and livelihoods of ASM miners and pallaqueras involved, formalization still remains a big challenge. This is also the case on national level because of poor policy decisions and a lack of staff to process applications. In addition, the formalization criteria are complex. As a result of these factors, the deadline for formalization has now been moved to 2020. Solidaridad will continue to provide technical and financial support to ASM miners in becoming formalized, as well as guidance to policymakers in how to improve the situation.

View of the Central Cerro Rico mining community

This programme has resulted in improved collaboration and better relations between MYSAC, the ASM miners, and the mining communities. The parties involved did, however, experience a number of complications along the way which has somewhat stalled the progress made in the programme. Nevertheless, the cooperation between Solidaridad, MYSAC and ASM miners was still a success. It has led to better livelihoods for the miners and communities, improved business operations at MYSAC, and has proven to be a successful model for a joint cooperation between a mining company and a CSO. This achievement is both important as well as unique: there are few cases of such a successful partnership with this level of cooperation over this length of time which is so relevant to the core business.

During the programme, members of one of the mining associations had indicated that they would have wanted to receive more support from MYSAC as well as from Solidaridad. We do see this as a positive indicator that the ASM miners have benefited from their cooperation with Solidaridad. Even though MYSAC has graduated from Solidaridad’s financial support, it is our hope that the mining company can take this up further.

Solidaridad currently aims to replicate this successful model in six new mines in Latin America by the end of 2020. We are also sharing our learnings from this programme with national and local governments as well as with major multinational mining companies that have invited project participants to speak with their teams.

MYSAC Evaluation Results

Pallaqueras infographic

All photos courtesy of ©PatricioCrooker

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