Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining - FAQ

What is artisanal and small-scale mining, or ASM?
Artisanal and small-scale mining is a largely informal economic sector that includes workers around the globe who use their hands, basic tools such as picks and shovels and low-tech equipment such as bulldozers and more mechanized equipment to extract from the earth vital metals such as cobalt, tin, tungsten and tantalum, as well as gold, diamonds, gemstones, coal and more. Artisanal mining can be among the hardest labor that humans undertake. Artisanal mining takes place in nearly every country in the world, from Africa to Asia to the Americas.

Who engages in ASM and why?
Artisanal and small-scale mining provides a vital livelihood for about 42 million people around the world, with tens of millions more people also dependent on the sector, including family members and small business owners along the ASM supply chain. About 30% of artisanal miners are women and about 70% are men. Most artisanal miners live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Miners often choose this work despite the challenges because there are few other opportunities available to them for generating the same level of income. By contrast, small-scale miners are often rural entrepreneurs and have formal or informal financing for their work and machinery. Many people also turn to ASM for seasonal labor, often moving between ASM and agricultural pursuits. For example, in West Africa, the ‘farming miner’ and ‘mining farmer’ is a common example of rural people mixing livelihoods at the base of global supply chains.

Why is ASM important to the world’s economies?
A significant portion of metals such as cobalt, copper, tin, tungsten, tantalum and iron are produced through ASM. These metals are critical to the world’s economies – necessary for computers, mobile phones, airplanes, medical devices, rechargeable batteries and much more. And more than 80% of the world’s gemstones are dug by artisanal miners. ASM also provides an important livelihood for tens of millions of workers, many of whom live in poverty and have few other options for earning income. ASM is an important driver of development in communities across the world.

What challenges does the ASM sector face?
Due to the nature of the work and informality, the ASM sector has a variety of challenges. ASM workers routinely face exploitation, unstable incomes and health and safety hazards such as tunnel collapses and dust-borne lung diseases. Artisanal miners often work without safety equipment and have no safety net or formal options for assistance if they are injured or become sick because of their work. Human rights abuses and child labor are common in some mining areas. Environmental damage caused by ASM can be significant, including land degradation and water pollution. In artisanal gold mining, for example, the use of mercury is common and causes human and environmental contamination. However, these challenges are solvable.

Why are ‘artisanal’ and ‘small-scale’ miners grouped together as ASM? Aren’t they different?
While artisanal and small-scale mining are indeed different in terms of degrees of mechanization, they are often grouped together as ASM because they face many similar challenges. This can include securing the correct permits for legal mining, engaging in legal (formalized) trade of their product, paying taxes, environmental and social compliance, successfully avoiding conflict and corruption, securing financing for their day to day work, understanding acute and chronic safety risks, complying with labor laws, using greener and efficient technology, accessing more market opportunities and so on. While large-scale miners can face some of these, artisanal and small-scale miners routinely face all of these challenges in rural contexts. 

If ASM can be dangerous and exploitative, why doesn’t Pact simply discourage ASM?
Turning our backs on artisanal miners, some of the most vulnerable laborers in the world, is not the answer. As long as the world demands these minerals, artisanal miners will continue to dig for them. Pact believes that local communities including artisanal miners have the right to safely benefit from the mineral resources around them. Rather than banning ASM, which isn’t practical, stakeholders throughout the sector must work together to improve and formalize ASM so that is safer, more productive, environmentally responsible and free from abuses. These efforts should include governments, the private sector, NGOs and mining communities – all of which stand to benefit significantly from ASM formalization. 

How is Pact working to improve the artisanal mining sector?
Pact’s has been working to improve the ASM sector and the lives of artisanal miners for more than a decade. Currently operating in more than a dozen countries in Africa, Asia and South America, Pact’s technical experts work in partnership with governments, industry and artisanal miners themselves to make ASM formal, safer and more productive and equitable. Pact’s efforts are helping to reveal and make the most of ASM’s contributions to development. Specializing in areas including health and safety in mining, human rights, traceability and transparency, economic empowerment among miners, mercury abatement, child labor reduction, mineral certification and ethical sourcing, we help communities gain lasting benefit from mineral resources by using them more sustainably. Go here to learn more about our current mining programming. 

Why is ASM formalization so important?
Formalizing the artisanal mining sector is the key to making the most of ASM while mitigating its negative effects. If approached in an inclusive and comprehensive manner, ASM formalization can making mining safer and more equitable and lucrative for miners; ensure environmental responsibility; vastly reduce human rights abuses, conflict financing and child labor; help industry to responsibly procure materials to meet consumer demands; help governments in the developing world to increase tax revenue from mining to pay for vital social services and public infrastructure; and much more.

Who makes up Pact’s Mines to Markets team?
Our team includes experts across the globe whose experience spans technical field work, security and human rights, governance and transparency, economic empowerment, sustainable enterprise and livelihood development, corporate responsibility and international best practice, mineral traceability and supply chain management, gold and mercury reduction, child labor reduction, data use and more. Our team includes former miners and multi-disciplinary experts based in Africa who are working in their home countries. Learn more under the Our Experts tab.

Who does Pact partner with in its efforts to improve the ASM sector?
We partner with all relevant stakeholders, among them governments, industry, local organizations, other NGOs and multilaterals, and artisanal miners themselves. Our partners have included USAID, the U.S. Department of Labor, the World Bank, Gemological Institute of America, the International Tin Association and companies including Trafigura, Microsoft, Google, Dell, Boeing and Qualcomm. Go here to learn more about our current mining programming.

How can various stakeholders connect and partner with Pact’s Mines to Markets program?

For mid-chain or retail placed companies - In certain geographies, we can do spot checks and long-term monitoring of supply chains. We can help companies understand their supply chains, prioritize materials and design and deliver thoughtful in-country and regional response efforts.

For larger companies and industry associations - We help companies and industry associations design, implement and monitor inclusive traceability solutions.

For larger-scale mining companies - We can help scope and implement mining co-existence and peacebuilding efforts, and we can assist in improving resilience and economic livelihoods within operational footprints.

For international funding agencies - We help private, bilateral and multilateral funders understand and respond to systemic challenges facing marginalized rural producers.

For governments - We help motivated governments collect data, design data-driven solutions, design cutting edge formalization strategies and co-implement them.

What is ITSCI?
ITSCI is a traceability due diligence program for the responsible sourcing of tin, tungsten and tantalum – or 3T minerals – from central Africa. Implemented by Pact, ITSCI is the only industry initiative with standards independently confirmed to be 100% aligned with OECD Due Diligence Guidance on Responsible Mineral Supply Chains. ITSCI provides monitoring and mitigation to avoid supply chain risks including conflict financing, human rights abuses and corruption. This enables metal users to responsibly source the materials they need and to stay engaged in high-risk areas so that artisanal miners can continue to benefit from local mineral resources. Learn more about ITSCI here.

How has Covid-19 impacted artisanal mining and miners?
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on ASM and artisanal miners. Government lockdowns, operational shutdowns and price volatility in the minerals sector have caused marked reductions in miners’ incomes, and without the option to stay home or distanced from other workers, miners face considerable risk of contracting coronavirus. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, where mining is a primary industry and economic driver, the disruptions have rippled through entire communities. At its lowest so far during the pandemic, the price of cobalt was down 22%. This contributed to widespread economic distress. Pact noted an increase in child labor at DRC mines sites due to school closures and economic need. Learn more here.

Where can I find more data on the ASM sector?
With the World Bank and other partners, Pact has launched Delve, a global online data platform on ASM. It is available at We created Delve to help solve a lack of data that is undermining the ASM sector, obscuring its contribution to development, and perpetuating a narrative that says ASM is dirty, chaotic and inherently bad for the environment and developing communities. We believe better data will reveal a different picture and lead to better decision-making, policies and interventions.

How does ASM affect the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?
Artisanal mining contributes both positively and negatively to the SDGs. Even in its informal state, ASM makes positive contributions to almost all of the SDGs, but – partly because of this informality – also has negative impacts on most of them. If approached in an inclusive and comprehensive manner, formalization can help mitigate many of the sector’s negative impacts and amplify its positive impacts on the SDGs. Learn more here.