ASM Workers Inspire Summit Planning

Alan Martin

By Alan Martin
Head of Responsible Sourcing, LBMA

As my colleagues and I finalise arrangements for this year’s LBMA/WGC Sustainability and Responsible Sourcing Summit (taking place on 20-22 March in London), my thoughts frequently turn to some of the individuals involved in the Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sector with whom I have crossed paths, and what sustainability would look like to them.

Ten years ago this month, for example, I found myself in an artisanal diamond mine in a remote and overgrown corner of northern Liberia, near the border with Guinea.

Our guides were two former combatants in the brutal civil war against Charles Taylor, a president turned warlord who laid waste to a generation, not just in his country but also neighbouring Sierra Leone. The war was fuelled in large part by the trade of diamonds, and its horrors—along with those in Sierra Leone and Angola—forced the international community to act.

In the fragile aftermath of the conflict, all diamond trading and producing countries came together to create the Kimberley Process, the first conflict mineral certification scheme of its kind.

That day, however, the legacy of the war was secondary on my mind. After bushwacking through the overgrowth for over an hour, we found a clearing about the size of a small city block in which a handful of men were digging in the wet earth, surrounded by the environmental carnage of their labour.

For two months they had been toiling in the hopes of hitting the proverbial pay dirt. They lived rough under ripped tarps, eating bland maize meal and what they could forage in the forest. What few diamonds they had found were owed to their patron, who had fronted their costs. They would never get ahead because the system, and odds, were so solidly stacked against them.

Alan Martin, Head of Responsible Sourcing, LBMA

If one looks at the trajectory of corporate social responsibility, over the last twenty years or so, there is no denying that its evolution has been in a positive direction. True industry leaders have long ago realised that genuine sustainability or ethical sourcing or responsible mining principles should be mainstreamed into core business practices.

In developing this year’s Summit, we considered examples of industry success stories to showcase, as well as emerging trends and sourcing challenges that need to be on our collective radars. As LBMA develops its own sustainability strategy and commitments, we also hope the ideas of keynotes and panellists will spark awareness and debate about some of these less considered issues, such as the ways to develop a sectoral roadmap to our industry’s decarbonisation transition.

The keynote remarks by Akshat Rathi, a Bloomberg journalist and author of Climate Capitalism, should certainly provoke some bluesky thinking. With the Responsible Gold Guidance (RGG) slated for review in 2025, I will be gleaning as many ideas as possible from the Summit to keep the Guidance fit for purpose and responsive to the ever-shifting ethical landscape.

Under the steady guidance of our consultant, Gregory Mthembu- Salter, we have made significant headway since we launched our ASM Initiative at the 2022 Summit. This has included identifying four countries—Ghana, Tanzania, Peru and Philippines—where the regulatory and political climate, and the maturity of the domestic industry, shows promising signs for engagement. We have just launched an ASM toolkit to support GDL Refiners in their due diligence assessments. And this year we hope to agree a sourcing framework that can attract more direct ASM feedstock to GDL refiners without compromising standards.

There are an estimated 18 million artisanal gold miners worldwide, many of whom work in similar conditions to those Liberian
diamond miners I met a decade ago. The more efforts such as the ASM Initiative inch closer to realisation, and the more industry engages in the genuine (and sometimes messy) conversations about the tangible steps necessary to move toward
better, the further the gold industry can demonstrate its commitment to more sustainable and responsible business conduct.

In developing this year’s Summit, we considered examples of industry success stories to showcase, as well as emerging trends and sourcing challenges that need to be on our collective radars.

Alan Martin

By Alan Martin
Head of Responsible Sourcing, LBMA

Alan manages LBMA’s Responsible Sourcing Programme for precious metals, which is mandatory for all Good Delivery List Refiners.

Prior to joining LBMA, Alan spent over a decade carrying out investigative research into the intersection between natural resources, human rights and illicit financial flows. As the former director of research at IMPACT, he has an intimate understanding of the challenges and vulnerabilities to responsible sourcing in the artisanal mining sector, trading and refining hubs, and jewellery manufacturing centres. Born and raised in Southern Africa, he holds a Master’s degree in conflict and development from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.