It is a sad but indisputable fact that in today’s mining industry there are countries that still allow labour practices that belong in Dickensian England rather than a modern economy.
Following up on a 2007-08 investigation by Associated Press into the supply chain of artisanal mines in Mali and other West African countries, Human Rights Watch released a report yesterday saying that gold mined by children in poverty is being purchased by trading houses in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, reports AP:
HRW estimates between 20,000 and 40,000 children, some thought to be as young as 6 years old, work in Mali’s artisanal gold mines. Many of the children are exposed to toxic mercury used in the processing of gold, and some have suffered long-term spinal injuries. They also face risks such as accidents in unstable pits as well as physical and sexual abuse.
According to the story, between January and June of this year, “companies from Belgium, Hong Kong, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates bought more than $83 million of Mali’s artisanally mined gold.”
Unfortunately, Mali is not the only country where children have been found mining for minerals. MINING.com reported in May on a photo essay by the Los Angeles Times documenting child labour in Indian coal mines:
Times South Asia bureau chief Mark Magnier and photojournalist Daniel Berehulak report on the mining situation in the Jaintia Hills district of India, located in the northeastern state of Meghalaya. Perhaps as many as thousands of underage workers as young as 8, lured by the wages, leave school to work in coal mines under perilous conditions.
Image of child gold miners in Tanzania is by Shutterstock.