ASM Gold deserves support from formal finance

18 December 2019

The artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) gold sector suffers from a dubious reputation worldwide among micro-credit financiers, impact investors and the private sector. There is a persistent perception that investing in and financing of ASM comes with a high level of risk. However, this perception is inaccurate and unfair. In this new series of blog articles, we aim to share important insights into this complex arena, and analyse the challenges and possible solutions.

Our blog series is based on a recent research report commissioned by Solidaridad and carried out by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime; and on our cooperation with TDI Sustainability, a sustainability advisory firm which has recently carried out research in this field as well. In this introduction blog, we take a bird’s-eye view of the issue of ASM gold and formal finance and discuss some important key findings that emerged from the research by the Global Initiative. 

A young woman at work in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) gold sector

Unfair perceptions of ASM gold sector

The ASM gold sector is witness to many harmful practices, which have a negative impact on both people and the environment. Moreover, illicit trading channels for ASM gold further fuel money laundering by criminals. The sector is in dire need of change. 

The research carried out by the Global Initiative ultimately shows that not financing ASM mines is a bad choice because it makes it impossible to improve the current situation and fosters the negative status quo. Non-engagement with ASM cannot be described as a neutral position; on the contrary, the negative financial, social, and environmental outcomes of not engaging can be more accurately described as risks of non-engagement. 

Artisanal and small scale mining provides 25 million people worldwide with an income and accounts for nearly 550 tonnes per year of gold production, or around 15% of the global supply (Metals Focus 2019). This represents a trade value of roughly 25 billion US dollars.

Men and women at work in the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector in Ghana. Globally, 30-40% of ASM miners are female.

Inclusive finance

Inclusivity is an important aspect that needs to be addressed, and it can potentially open opportunities for responsible investment in the ASM sector. Gender and youth inclusive investments are crucial. Around 30 to 40% of the people who work in the ASM sector are women. Statistics have also shown that women are more likely to pay back their loans compared to men. Inclusivity thus offers a smart strategy for investors looking to get involved in ASM financing. Together with partners Simavi and Healthy Entrepreneurs, Solidaridad is working on implementing this strategy in our joint Golden Line programme in Ghana and Tanzania.  

ASM requires formalized financing

ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) criteria in the financial sector are gaining popularity, but can turn out to be counterproductive in the case of ASM gold. The financing of the ASM sector comes accompanied with high risks: both corruption and money laundering are a major issue in the sector. The current situation of not financing, however, perpetuates this system. We can only break through the current negative cycle by gradually formalizing finance for the ASM sector, asking for the financial sector to adopt a “do good” financing strategy instead of a risk avoidance strategy.

The complexity of ASM requires us to be realistic: the sector requires the combination of impact investment and grant funding, as impact investment money alone won’t create enough impact to change the status quo in the ASM sector.

The women miners involved in our Golden Line programme in Ghana and Tanzania, implemented in partnership with Simavi and Healthy Entrepreneurs

Key research findings 

The researchers at Global Initiative have interviewed a variety of actors in the gold industry. The following are the key findings of the research report:

  • Different actors have varying levels of familiarity with the ASM sector. Investors tend to have little to no knowledge of the sector, beyond mainstream NGO and media reporting. Gold buyers, in particular refiners and jewellers, tend to have greater knowledge of the sector. 
  • Perceived risks of engaging with ASM are expressed in general terms. Environmental harms tend to be highlighted slightly more often than social harms. When pressed on specific concerns, child labour and mercury use were frequently mentioned. 
  • The risks of not engaging with ASM are not well understood. There is a lack of knowledge on how current (largely informal) ASM markets operate, and how de-risking policies and disengagement increase the vulnerability of the sector to harmful practices.
  • Currently, private sector actors are largely unwilling to finance ASM operations. Formal financial investors mostly see the sector as too risky and are not willing to increase engagement. Many gold buyers are not comfortable financing ASM operations, nor do they see it as their role to do so. 

Mine workers at an ASM gold mine in Tanzania, washing out the grinded gold to separate it from the sand and gravel

  • Responsible sourcing of ASM gold is currently not economically sustainable. High fixed costs by volume (transportation and due diligence costs) together with low and unpredictable production volumes currently make responsible sourcing of ASM gold uneconomical. While certification may encourage responsible sourcing of ASM gold, it is important to acknowledge that certification is a very lengthy process and does not always include clear gains for the miners. Therefore, it is essential to encourage investment in and sourcing from non-certified ASM mines which, albeit imperfect, are working to establish and upscale good practices.  
  • The rise in responsible investment is an opportunity to initiate and grow formal financial sector engagement in the ASM sector. Many private sector actors are moving away from ‘do no harm’ principles towards ‘do good’ principles, and are working to identify opportunities for positive impact. 
  • ASM may suffer if it continues to be perceived as an undesirable sector for responsible investment, beyond rehabilitation. In particular, if the perception of the financial sector persists that ASM, and extractives more broadly, are inherently bad, then barriers to accessing financing and financial services could increase further.

Men and women at work in a Ghanaian gold mine

Joint cooperation towards responsible ASM

Together with a variety of stakeholders throughout the value chain, Solidaridad works towards facilitating more responsible sourcing of gold in our projects worldwide. When accompanied by controlled financing, formalization, and positive engagement, the ASM sector offers huge potential for improving millions of lives and protecting the environment, along with providing value for financiers and impact investors. 

In our next blog post we will address the challenge of ASM gold being abused by criminals for smuggling and money-laundering. You can also view and download our 2-pager publication with the main findings of the research.

Read more on our work in gender inclusive ASM gold in this recent blog on the gender stakeholder statement. This statement was developed by Women’s Rights and Mining in cooperation with the OECD, and signed and endorsed by Solidaridad and many other stakeholders. 

Read more about the Solidaridad gold programme.

Related news

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  • Tackling the smuggling and money laundering in ASM gold is a must

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  • Aunexum and Solidaridad partner to invest in responsible ASM gold

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  • Gender-responsive due diligence in artisanal and small-scale mining is a must

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  • Contact Information

    Carla Neefs

    Corporate Partnerships Manager Gold