Why Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM)?

The term “artisanal and small-scale gold mining” (ASGM) refers to low technology and highly labour-intensive gold mining activities that employ basic extraction and processing methods. 

Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM, gold and other minerals) generates employment and income for over 44 million workers worldwide, feeding around 100 million people, including families and various service providers. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) offers a livelihood for more than 20 million men and women and, as the source of 20% the global gold production, has the potential to act as an economic engine to drive the sustainable development of mineral-endowed communities.

The sector, however, does not come without its challenges, often characterised by informal operations, widespread use of mercury, hazardous working conditions, child labour and, in some instances, conflict financing and money laundering. A significant share of ASGM producers are marginalised and endure a precarious financial situation: they are particularly affected by fluctuations in gold prices, unfavourable sale conditions imposed by intermediaries and have limited or no access to basic financial services.

Fully aware that disengagement from ASGM sources would fail to address the root causes of these challenges, together with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), the Swiss Better Gold Association and its members created the Swiss Better Gold Initiative for Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM)

Learn more about the Swiss Better Gold Initiative's theory of change. The theory of change is a result of the last external evaluation of Swiss Better Gold, and emerged from a discussion between the key stakeholders involved.

Theory of Change

The Swiss Better Gold Initiative for Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining purpose is to have an inclusive approach and collectively turn ASM producers into a force for good by:

1. Providing technical support and training

2. Channelling direct financial investment in mine safety & improving productivity

3. Offering fair business terms & an additional incentive for community development projects

Typology of Swiss Better Gold Mines

The OECD defines ASM as artisanal and small-scale mining comprised of “formal or informal mining operations with predominantly simplified forms of exploration, extraction, processing, and transportation. ASM is normally low capital intensive and uses high labour-intensive technology. “ASM” can include men and women working on an individual basis as well as those working in family groups, in partnership, or as Members of cooperatives or other types of legal associations and enterprises involving hundreds or even thousands of miners. For example, it is common for work groups of 4-10 individuals, sometimes in family units, to share tasks at one single point of mineral extraction (e.g. excavating one tunnel). At the organisational level, groups of 30 – 300 miners are common, extracting jointly one mineral deposit (e.g. working in different tunnels), and sometimes sharing processing facilities”. (OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas) pg. 65 [Accessed on 27.06.2023])

Swiss Better Gold has taken an inclusive, open and pragmatic approach to support any entity or individual, irrespective of their legal set-up, enabling artisanal and small-scale miners to access international markets. Swiss Better Gold support activities to ASM include:

  1. providing technical assistance to support producers achieve its initial sourcing criteria and then progress on its Continuous Improvement Escalator
  2. establishing supply chains with its downstream Members, collecting from such Member a USD 1 per gram impact premium
  3. reinvesting the impact premium in on the ground social and environmental projects.

Swiss Better Gold supports the following types of producers:

  • Artisanal gold panners (called ‘barequeros’ in Colombia): miners who work independently (each person is considered as a production unit) and live from extracting gold using traditional methods and mostly working by hand, usually on riverbanks.
  • Small-scale mines: operations owned and run by men or women working on an individual basis as well as those working in family groups, small and medium enterprises, cooperatives and other types of entities, potentially involving hundreds of individuals. These organisations do not always structurally rely on permanent hired labour, have simplified forms of extraction, processing and transportation, low capital intensity (little mechanisation) and high labour-intensive technology (panning, hand-picking, and crushing).
  • Semi-industrial, medium, or large mines engaged with ASGM are small, medium, or large mining entities, that often have shareholders or sole investors. These operations structurally rely on permanent hired labour and employ sophisticated equipment, including mechanisation in certain processing or exploration activities. These types of operations collaborate with dozens or in some cases hundreds of ASGM producers within their concession (operational sub-contracts). For large mines, only the output of metal relating to ASGM is taken.

In 10 years of activity, Swiss Better Gold was able to:

  • Support supply chains for a total of 15 tons of gold between ASM producers and Swiss Better Gold Members.
  • Implement 46 social and environmental impact projects with a direct contribution of USD 6’000’000 with a vast range of gold ASM producers.