By Joshua Machinga
The Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) sector for long has been under the scrutiny and criticised for promoting irresponsible and unsustainable mining operations. The sector which continues to be under the microscope is characterised by rampant criminality, violence (gangsterism), environmental degradation in the form of open (not rehabilitated) pits, gold rushes (recently there was one that occurred in Bubi, near Lonely Mine). It is largely informal and is associated with low levels of safety measures, health care or environmental protection.
Despite such characteristics, the sector has attracted a notable number of players who are trying to make ends meet in a country with high levels of formal unemployment, making it a viable livelihood of many rural folks in Zimbabwe. The sector has also enjoyed an increase in mineral production over the past years with artisanal and small-scale miners (ASMiners) becoming the main source of earnings. Thus, making mining sector the mainstay of economic growth.
As such, responsible sourcing becomes imperative for the safe, environmentally friendly and sustainable sector. Responsible sourcing is a critical function in which, participating actors government, investors (business), miners and the communities in general) are equally accountable for the ethicality and sustainability of the value chain processes. The practice (responsible sourcing) will go a long way in justifying and assisting the overdue calls for the ASM sector to be formalised and legally recognised. It guards against the marginalisation of workers of the informal sector (working on the formalisation of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM)). This ensures that artisanal mining communities can benefit from trade in high-risk, conflict-affected areas and to support their development, in line with section 13(4) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
For ‘A sustainable and well-governed mining sector that effectively garners and deploys resource rents and that is safe, healthy, gender & ethnically inclusive, environmentally friendly, socially responsible and appreciated by surrounding communities, as stipulated by the Africa Mining Vision (AMV) dictum, responsible sourcing becomes imperative. The Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration made a fervent call for the private sector to ensure that production and sourcing practices do not contribute to adverse human rights or conflict.
Responsible sourcing emphasizes the need to respect human rights and the environment throughout the value chain processes. The Constitution of Zimbabwe Chapter. 4, section 44 stipulates the State and everyone’s duty to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms. Globally, international instruments like the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) also emphasize on the need to protect and promote human rights. The (UNGPs) provides benchmarks for states and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations and to exercise wider human rights due diligence, a process to identify, prevent, address, and account for their impact on human rights throughout their supply chains. This makes responsible sourcing a practice worthy adopting for the sustainability of artisanal and small-scale mining.
Zimbabwe Constitution section 73(1)(b) para (iii), in line with provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, OECD Guidelines for Responsible Sourcing, Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) among other guidelines for responsible operating practices, makes responsible sourcing a justified call for the sustainability of the sector.
Considering that Zimbabwe’s current mining legislation does not differentiate between artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) and large-scale mining (LSM) (favors the latter), the artisanal and small-scale mining sector players find it difficult to comply with the mining laws and operate legally. Considering low mining laws compliance among the ASMiners evidenced by rampant disregard of safety, health and environment regulations and wide use of mercury in the sector, responsible sourcing as a practice becomes critical and force to reckon with in a bid to have a safe, environmentally friendly and sustainable sector.
Recognising the importance of responsible sourcing, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) is currently implementing a project that seek to promote women led responsible, traceable, safe and profitable artisanal and small-scale gold mining by Mthandazo Women Miners Association (MWMA) in Gwanda District. The project seeks to achieve this through capacitating the Association (Mthandazo Women Miners) to implement due diligence assessments and traceability actions in their gold supply chain, applying legal tools to assert their rights in the mining and marketing of gold, benchmarked on international best practices on responsible sourcing such as the OECD standards. The end game is to ensure mining operations (mining, gold milling and trading ventures for their (MWMA) economic empowerment) that are run sustainably, responsibly and profitably.
The formalisation of the ASM will go a long way in enhancing responsible sourcing. This is why the Government has to ensure that it swiftly recognises this sector which has made notable contributions to the fiscus especially their gold delivery to Fidelity Printers and Refiners albeit being labelled as illegal economic players.