It’s been just over three months since the spread of COVID-19 turned Fairphone’s Amsterdam headquarters into a virtual workspace. But as I write this from the privilege and comfort of my home, that change feels tiny within the bigger picture. As part of the Fairphone Impact Innovation team, I spend a lot of time working with and researching small-scale mines and their surrounding communities. (The technical term is “artisanal and small-scale mines”, or ASM). 83% of the global mining workforce relies on these mines to survive – roughly 40.5 million people. Many people working in them were in vulnerable positions before COVID-19 ever appeared on the scene; the virus has made their situation even more precarious.
Small-scale mines often lack basic health and safety measures. Mining in them is generally conducted in an informal, non-industrial environment. They are easily victimized by armed groups and illicit traders. On the other hand, many local communities are reliant on this type of mining for survival. It’s why Fairphone invests so heavily in engaging and integrating ASM materials into our supply chains: improving the system from the inside has the power to create lasting change on the ground.
Now COVID-19 has disrupted or halted global supply chains, compounding the existing problems these mines face. Workers and their dependents face rising prices and falling incomes. Criminal actors are moving in, vying for bigger claims on market shares and exacerbating local tensions. Economic desperation is increasing incidents of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and child labor. The hard-earned gains that some mining communities have made over the years are under threat, and the risks involved in establishing new interventions are greater than ever.
Over the years and for each of our phones, we’ve worked with many determined partners to establish secure, traceable and reliable supply chains from ASM, such as Fairtrade gold and conflict-free tin and tantalum. We have worked with many determined partners across the supply chain and industry, from on-the-ground improvement programmes in mining communities, to complex due diligence and tracking systems with our smelting and refining partners. Together, we are creating a movement for a fairer tomorrow at every step of the supply chain.
As a company, and as people who simply care for their fellow human beings, we say that we cannot lose ground. Real headway is being made in the fight for a fairer future, and it’s up to us as an industry – and individuals – not to lose that momentum.
We have been given a scary and beautiful opportunity – scary because change always feels uncertain; beautiful because it is based in a desire for justice, kindness and fairness. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is calling on industry and civil society to seize this moment, to build back better and create a fairer future for all. They are urging all of us to heed the call for decisive action to support responsible mining communities. We stand behind their statement and will continue to dedicate our efforts to fostering the sustainable inclusion of responsible ASM materials into global supply chains.
The steering group emphasizes the importance of immediate engagement: “Recovery will only work if we do not have to re-start from zero”. For phone manufacturers and suppliers, this means that if you didn’t have a project or policies in place to support small-scale mines and their communities, now is the time to get one. This is your chance to be a part of the solution, to build a new normal that is better than the old status quo.
2020 has been a tough year for everyone – a challenging and scary time. We’re all sitting in an uncomfortable place right now. But that discomfort is such an important reminder of how many people still live on the margins, without the peace and wealth and abundance that so many of us normally enjoy. In the midst of the covid19 and beyond it’s a clear call to action to build a fairer system, a kinder world, that leaves no one behind.
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