Gold Mining and Labor Concerns
Dirty gold mining is widespread and largely unregulated, often favoring the profits of large corporations over local workers' rights. Poor safety standards in gold mining have led to a high number of fatalities.
As mine workers organize to defend their rights and protect their health and safety in the workplace, they often face overwhelming opposition. South Africa, one of the world's largest gold producers, has one of the worst reputations for mining safety, with fatality rates rising year after year. In October of 2007, an estimated 3,200 South African gold miners were trapped more than a mile below ground for several days before being brought out safely. This, along with 200 deaths in 2007 alone, led to strikes by hundreds of thousands of South African miners in December 2007.
S African miners strike on safety (BBC, December 4, 2007)
China is an emerging, fast growing producer of gold - output has risen by 70% over the past decade, overtaking South Africa as the world's largest gold producer. Historically, China's small-scale mines have relied on arsenic and other dirty gold practices that have poisoned surrounding areas. China's new gold mining boom is being powered by international mining companies that are beginning to focus on stronger environmental and labor regulations. Australian company Sino Gold is relying on processes to reuse water, reclaim land, and neutralize cyanide in waste that are setting a new standard for China's unsafe and polluting mining industry. The local community of Zhengfeng is eagerly anticipating that the company will provide jobs and a range of social services that the community lacks. It is possible that China's new mining efforts may benefit from lessons learned in other countries and communities.
Australian gold diggers move a mountain in China (Reuters, May 5, 2007)