The wall texts throughout the exhibition illustrate the complexity of the global supply chain for gold and rare minerals. – Scroll down for additional information.
Despite their significant contributions to major global mineral supply chains, artisanal and small-scale miners are some of the world’s most marginalized workers, and their contribution to the global economy garners little attention, or their precarious work conditions are often stigmatized.
Vulnerabilities are even intensified due to the current COVID-19 crisis, which has generated growing crackdowns on informal jobs. Artisanal mining activity typically takes place in rural areas without access to proper health infrastructure and lack of government support.
Workers in artisanal and small-scale mines have to endure dangerous and precarious working conditions. Despite this, the dominant narrative around their work is demeaning – and this can best be illustrated through newspaperclippings around the world. They are portrayed as ruthless, greedy individuals who disregard risks in favor of the chance to “get rich quick”. Workers in ASM are often held responsible for leaving behind landscapes of devastationbecause of their extractive practices and use of chemicals. In places of political violence such as the DRC, Colombia and Burkina Faso, artisanal and small-scale mining has become a victim of predation by armed groups, but it is often the whole sector that ends up being blamed for promoting violence.
The tendency to “blame the victim”, sadly, has a long history in agrarian societies, which is repeated in the case of artisanal and small-scale mining today. This dominant narrative has recently begun to change, with international organizations ready to “help” miners. But the wider global structural context, whereby miners find themselves exploited and stuck with such a job in the first place, is still rarely addressed.
Examples of addressing exploitation: Making a world of difference in small-scale gold mining
Striking gold in Burkina Faso
An extreme illustration of this stigmatization is the “boycott” of artisanally mined gold in 2019 by Metalor, one of the biggest refineries globally, based in Switzerland. While commercial boycotts usually are undertaken by consumers towards powerful multinational companies, this boycott involved a powerful multinational company boycotting much less powerful artisanal and small-scale mine workers. The absurdity of the power configuration did not go unnoticed and the boycott was short-lived. But it illustrates how far the stigmatization of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) workers can go.
News report about the boycott by Swiss national television RTS, in French:
Metalor renonce à l'or des mines artisanales
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Department of Geography, University of Zurich:
Research, interviews, 3D scans, videos, photographs: Gabriel Kamundala, Department of Geography, UZH
Supervision and textual content: Dr. Timothy Raeymaekers, Department of Geography, UZH,
Dr. Muriel Côte, Associate senior lecturer, Department of Human Geography, University of Lund
University of Zimbabwe
University of Ouagadougou I
Institut National des Sciences des Sociétés (Burkina Faso)
Groupe d’Etudes sur les Conflits et la Sécurité Humaine (DR CONGO)
Immersive Arts Space, Zurich University of the Arts ZHdK:
Scenography: Mariana Vieira Gruenig
Interaction Design, 3D Experience: Chris Elvis Leisi
Spatial Augmented Reality Engineer: Florian Christoph Bruggisser
Video editing, storytelling: Alan Sahin
Sound design: Patrycja Pakiela
Additional on location audio recordings: Alfred Borauzima
Translation, proofreading: Alliance Riziki Murhula, Edward Wright
Voice over: Shabnam Chamani, Rino Hosennen
Chief technician: Sébastien Schiesser
Production manager: Kristina Jungic
Project lead: Prof. Christian Iseli