(Reuters) – A rapid rise in the price of gold since 2000 has driven millions of people to deposits in Africa, South America and elsewhere where they dig for gold using basic technology.
Such informal digging – known as artisanal or small-scale mining (ASM) – has been around for centuries, and gold offers cash to communities that may lack alternatives. There are now around 15-20 million artisanal miners, and millions more depend on them, Delve, a global platform for ASM data, estimates.
More and more people are trying to bring this fast-growing trade into the formal economy. But it has generated toxic waste and fed labor abuses, organized crime and prostitution, according to groups including the United Nations and the OECD.
WHAT IS ARTISANAL MINING?
Artisanal and small-scale miners often operate “freelance,” sometimes paying landowners to access a site, or handing bosses a share of their ore. Many work with little more than pickaxes and shovels and carry what they dig on their backs. Others use diggers and crushers.
Often, miners use mercury to extract the gold, then turn it into semi-pure nuggets of dore (pronounced door-ray) to sell to traders.