WASHINGTON – In the nipa groves that line the Philippine shore, families spend harrowing days in a desperate search for gold. Children crouch in the mud, separating gold from sediment. Meanwhile, their older siblings and parents dive deep into the marsh. Spending hours below the surface, seeking tiny flecks of the precious metal in cloudy water, drawing breath from makeshift tubes connected to small compressors. Children like Jonathon Ramorez use toxic mercury to amalgamate the gold. In a small plastic bag, he carries the mercury he needs, which he will pour over the gold and which will then evaporate. This purifies the gold but poisons the air he breathes, as well as leeches into the soil and contaminates the water that sustains whole communities.
Small-scale and artisanal mining operations like this one produce an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the world’s gold. Between 10 and 15 million people, including four to five million women and children, do this work amid hazardous conditions. Many have direct exposure to the mercury used to amalgamate gold; the process accounts for 37 percent of total global mercury emissions.
There are ways to making this work safer and reduce the number of families whose lives are at risk. The Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs has awarded the International Labor Organization $5 million to implement a 40-month project to reduce child labor and address hazardous working conditions in artisanal and small-scale mining. The project will work with the governments of Ghana and the Philippines and partner with BanToxics – a Philippine environmental organization – to work with stakeholders, including governments, business and civil society organizations, and directly with miners and their families. The project will bring these stakeholders together to implement laws, policies, and action plans to address child labor and working conditions in small-scale gold mining; increase access of artisanal mining communities to livelihood and social protection programs; and develop tools to increase transparency and monitoring of child labor and working conditions in gold mining supply chains.
The project will promote the formation of networks and the sharing of good practices among stakeholders in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. The project will also provide funds for pilot initiatives, to identify and develop new tools for reducing the use of mercury and families’ exposure to hazards.
Through this project, the Department deepens the U.S. commitment to reduce child labor and implement the Minamata Convention on Mercury, ratified by the U.S. in 2013, which seeks to reduce the use of mercury worldwide. The project builds on the Department’s current efforts to reduce child labor in small-scale gold mining in Burkina Faso and Colombia.
ILAB leads the U.S. government's efforts to ensure that workers around the world are treated fairly and are able to share in the benefits of the global economy. To these ends, ILAB has provided funding for more than 290 projects in more than 90 countries to combat the worst forms of child labor by assisting vulnerable children and their families. More information is available at www.dol.gov/ilab/.