What is legal? Formalising artisanal and small-scale mining in Colombia

What is legal? Formalising artisanal and small-scale mining in Colombia

Colombia’s mining sector is characterised by widespread informality. A recent census revealed that 72 per cent of all mining operations in Colombia are classed as ‘artisanal and small-scale mining’ (ASM), and 63 per cent are ‘informal’, lacking a legal mining concession or title. Large-scale mining (LSM) comprises only one per cent of operations. Over 340,000 Colombians depend directly on ASM and medium-scale mining (MSM) for their income.

This informality deprives the state of important financial resources, while the current poor conditions (environmental, social, health and safety, labour, technical and trading) prevent the sector from delivering on important social objectives, such as generating formal employment and improving quality of life in mining communities.

This paper assesses these past formalisation processes, analysing the barriers to formalisation for artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) and offering approaches to overcome them. It highlights that now is a critical moment for Colombia’s mining sector as positive drivers align for change: the government’s 2013 formalisation policy; evolving relationships between ASM and large-scale mining; global drivers such as mercury elimination, conflict-free mineral sourcing and investment in traceable certified gold; and the peace negotiations currently underway to end more than 50 years of armed conflict, of which formalisation of ASM is a key component.

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