I’ve been hearing about “artisanal” mining and how it’s a big part of the jewelry industry. What exactly is it?
Very few consumers and even retailers know exactly what artisanal mining is, and how important it is to the jewelry industry. The technical term is artisanal and small-scale mining, often shortened to ASM. A global industry typically found in rural areas of developing countries, artisanal mining of deposits of valuable minerals and gems offer communities and families a way to make a living in areas where few alternatives exist.
There is very little large-scale colored gemstone mining, which means that artisanal miners are the main producers of colored gemstones worldwide, and significant producers of diamonds as well. But because artisanal miners are not organized, very very few people buy directly from the artisanal miner. This is one of the main reasons why colored gemstones are so rarely tracked from mine to retail store, which makes it virtually impossible to know where your stone originates from or what conditions it was mined in.
As it currently exists, ASM is often an illegal or high risk activity. Because it is practiced on a small scale by people who are often poor, uneducated, and lack other employment opportunities, it is a highly unregulated sector and subject to harsh working and living conditions. And because small scale miners are not trained, they often do not realize that the methods they use to mine for gold and other precious substances are damaging their environment and their health.
However, ASM is undergoing a transformation into a positive global sector that can be a major contributor to economic growth around the world. Brilliant Earth is part of a working group of the Madison Dialogue that is working on ways to improve the artisanal mining sector for a long-term, sustainable future. One of the main interests is in making ASM a central component of the emerging fair trade jewelry trade. Some of the strategies include:
Paying a fair price for gemstones and fair wages.
Technical assistance to miners to educate them on safe and nontoxic ways to mine.
Investing in sustainable projects like reforestation and education.
Brilliant Earth’s partner sapphire mine in Malawi practices all of these strategies in one of the poorest countries in the world. And the Association for Responsible Mining (ARM) is working to bring credibility, transparency, and legitimacy to the development of a framework for responsible artisanal and small-scale mining.
For more about artisanal mining, we recommend visiting any of the following resources.
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