International Development Planning Review

‘Ethical gold’ in sub-Saharan Africa: a viable empowerment strategy?

International Development Planning Review (2016), 38, (2), 179–199.

Abstract

This paper reflects critically on the potential of four parallel ethical gold certification schemes to empower people engaged in poverty-driven artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) activities in sub-Saharan Africa. It reviews the literature on empowerment to broaden understanding of which groups of miners these certification schemes are targeting and capable of supporting. The industry-led schemes implemented to date seem ideally-suited for multinational companies, whilst NGO-led schemes appear neither capable of breaking down the institutional structures that marginalise ASM operators nor readily adaptable to the African context. No scheme seems truly focused on – and capable of – empowering miners who are suffering extreme hardship and struggling to accumulate earnings. None of the ethical gold certification schemes reviewed here appears capable of sufficiently altering the social dimensions of power, agency and the institutional environment needed in order to empower artisanal and small-scale miners.

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McQuilken, James Thomas