Child labour in the artisanal gold mines of Mali – A report by NBC reporter Richard Engel

On Monday, December 5, NBC news network aired a report featuring a visit of one of its reporters, Richard Engel, to a small-scale mine in Mali.  The report also explained how the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold standard offers an incentive for better practices among small-scale miners around the world. Solidaridad is pleased that NBC is bringing attention to the social problems in artisanal- and small-scale gold mining and the potential for Fairtrade and Fairmined gold to address these problems.  

As explained in the report, conditions in gold mining in Mali are poor. Mali is Africa's third largest gold producer.  Part of this gold is produced in artisanal mines. Child labour is widespread in these mines, children do backbreaking work all day for 'a bag of dirt' as weekly payment. They live miles away from their families in shacks of plastic and wood.

Adults, too, work in the mines under extremely dangerous conditions, digging for ore in mine shafts that descend over 8 storeys with no fortification and are only a couple feet wide.  Reports of miners who suffocate to death or mines that fall apart are common. Women process the ore with mercury with their bare hands in areas where children live and play, unaware of the long-term health impacts of mercury. This happens even when they are pregnant, which poses particular risk of neurological damage to the unborn child.  

While Solidaridad does not currently work with miners in Mali, we do work in nearby Ghana.  Many of the same problems happen at mines in these two countries, as well more than 50 other gold mining countries.  These problems include the uncontrolled use of toxic mercury, and young children and women doing very hard, dangerous work in the mines for very little or no compensation.  (The ILO has said that any child working in a mine is a “worst form of labour” and should not happen.) Exploitation of all workers is also a serious issue.  

The introduction of Faitrade and Fairmined certification early this year offers new hope. However, before miners can become certified they need help to change their practices so they can meet the requirements of the standard.  Solidaridad is offering this help in the form of training and other assistance, delivered with the help of local partner organizations in countries where we work, including Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and we are raising funds to expand our pilot work in Ghana. 

NBC and the U.S.-based organizations featured in the report, Human Rights Watch and Fair Jewelry Action, are doing a great job raising awareness of these issues among consumers.  We need more people to demand "Good Gold", such as Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold, so that we can expand the benefit to more mining communities like the one featured in Mali.  

Read more about the Solidaridad gold programme and our campaign in The Netherlands.