Strong alliances, strengthened communities: A well-built international partnership makes a difference for miners

November 22, 2019
An artisanal miner at work in Colombia.

There was a time when Benjamín, an artisanal miner from Boyacá, Colombia, worried each day as he left for work that he might never see his family again. As a miner, he told us, your work is so dangerous that “you don't know if you'll arrive home at night.” Today, thankfully, Benjamín’s reality is very different. With the occupational safety and health knowledge and resources he has gained through the Somos Tesoro project, he is much more confident that his work day will end well.

The change in his life and in the lives of many others is a testament to the value of the solid alliances that have made Somos Tesoro’s impact possible. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Somos Tesoro (We Are Treasure) began seven years ago. In addition to strengthening the small-scale mining sector and making it safer, the project has significantly reduced child labor in mining in the areas of Colombia where we work, including the coal mining communities of Boyacá and the gold mining communities of Antioquia. Somos Tesoro has trained thousands of miners, metal collectors and gold panners.

None of this would have been possible without the collaboration that has taken place among Pact, local mining organizations and NGOs, and the Alliance for Responsible Mining, or ARM, a non-profit foundation based in Colombia that works to foster artisanal and small-scale mining as a means of rural development. My colleagues and I at ARM are confident that strong and complementary partnerships are essential to strengthening the capacity of various actors in mining supply chains, especially small-scale and artisanal miners, in the communities where we work.

The beginnings

The remarkable thing about this partnership, as in every solid, lasting relationship, is that it has been in the making for a long time. We first got acquainted with Pact when ARM’s then-executive director, Lina Villa, met with Pact representatives in Washington in 2013 to discuss Pact’s global Mines to Markets program. We then decided to enter into an official alliance and jointly proposed the project that would become Somos Tesoro.

From there on, each organization continued to realize just how much we are driven by the same goals. At both Pact and ARM, we believe that small-scale miners carry out dignified work, which can be done responsibly and profitably, and that these values must be transferred to both communities and to all links in mining supply chains. We are convinced that if we look toward common horizons and complement each other, we can make tremendous impact.

When Pact’s team arrived in Medellín, where ARM is headquartered, we began bringing in other critical partners and allies, including Fundación Mi Sangre and Fondo Acción, and we saw that the expression “union makes strength” made more and more sense. Members of the Pact team worked several months in our offices with ARM to formulate this recognized and innovative project. Since Somos Tesoro began, we have been able to share many experiences of work and life together with the mining communities. With hard work, Somos Tesoro materialized, with both organizations learning a lot.

ARM proved capable in leading the mining component of the project. In this piece about the legacy of Somos Tesoro, Patricia Henao, director of Pact Colombia and Somos Tesoro, noted that ARM played an indispensable role by “designing and developing studies that helped us understand the miners’ point of view, their perception of child labor, and, starting from that understanding, to discuss the reduction of child labor in mining. Also, to reflect on gender roles in mining, and how stereotypes can impact forms of child labor.”

For ARM, stable funding in alliance with solid partners such as Pact has helped us to improve our organization in so many ways. We have developed and consolidated methodologies, as well as gained experience in specific issues such as child labor risk management, where Pact has done great work, as well as in livelihoods and holistic relationships with communities.

From Latin America to the world

This first successful working alliance led to other initiatives. At global events organized by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the International Labour Organization and others, we delivered information directly from communities and the voices of miners to international dialogue spaces.

Because ARM firmly believe that alliances will transform the mining sector, in 2018, together with many partners, including Pact, we led in the creation of the CRAFT Code, a “passport to markets” for artisanal and small-scale miners, facilitating their connection to formal markets. This instrument seeks to hold the industry and miners equitably accountable, so that the former can ensure due diligence and the latter can demonstrate that they are making progressive improvement efforts in a complex sector. It is crucial that allies such as Pact join in the use of the tool and promote and pilot it in different places, as is being done in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In another example of where partnership has taken us, in 2018, with Pact we published a study from Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, Understanding the Economic Contribution of Small-Scale Mining in East Africa, which was funded by East Africa Research Fund. The research highlighted challenges, achievements and the potential of the artisanal and small-scale mining sector to further inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction in the region.

After years of collaboration with Pact in various parts of the world, today, we are doing more together than ever. Pact and ARM are carrying out a new project in Colombia — Pilares — and extending Somos Tesoro to additional territories. I am confident that each organization is better because of the other. As a result, and more important, the communities we serve are better.

We will always be ready to seek new horizons together.

Yves Bertran is executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Mining.