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Title: Small-scale mining and production networks in sub-Saharan Africa : reconceptualising a framework for 'pro-poor' ethical mineral certification
Author: McQuilken, James
ISNI:       0000 0004 7425 357X
Awarding Body: University of Surrey
Current Institution: University of Surrey
Date of Award: 2018
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In rural sub-Saharan Africa, tens of millions of people engage in artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), low-tech, labour-intensive mineral extraction and processing. Working in precarious conditions, these – mostly-impoverished – operators are deeply embedded at the base of global networks of production that supply significant quantities of the world’s minerals and construction materials, including upwards of 20 per cent of global gold and diamonds production each year. But constrained by mineral governance frameworks and an ‘opportunity structure’ that is found to prioritise the development of export-led large-scale mineral extraction and exploration activities, the vast majority of ASM operators find themselves entrenched in cycles of poverty that trap them in the informal economy. Here, their activities, while productive, have, due to a lack of regulation, become strongly associated with a range of deleterious social, health and environmental problems that have had detrimental impacts on rural communities. Significantly, these ‘expressions’ of the sector’s informality have provided a source of inspiration for the pioneering designers of ethical mineral certification schemes, which variously claim to facilitate transformational change by empowering the most marginalised ASM operators. The results thus far, however, are unimpressive: despite the fanfare surrounding their implementation, they are rather commonly associated with elite capture, target the ‘low hanging fruit’, and have failed to reach – and at times, even attempt to target – the unlicensed miners that are entrenched in the shadow economy and who are in the greatest need of support. Further analysis reveals that the designers of ethical mineral schemes, and the NGOs, government bodies and industry organisations backing them, have a poor knowledge of the dynamics of the ASM sector, which has hampered their ability to pinpoint who, specifically, to target in the value chain and how to go about engaging them. The purpose of this thesis, therefore, is to help bridge this gap by deepening understanding of the local level functioning of ASM activities, and the complex multi-layered networks of labour and production they are a part of, with a view toward facilitating the improved design of ethical mineral schemes and complementary support structures for the sector’s operators. It is this crucial information and level of detail that is needed to put organisations in a position to entice impoverished ASM operators to vacate the informal sector ‘spaces’ which they populate, as well as design ethical mineral schemes which are truly ‘pro-poor’. To achieve this, the thesis adapts the Global Production Network (GPN) framework, embracing heavily its core underpinning themes of embeddedness, empowerment, and value, which constitute the pillars of the theoretical and conceptual framework adopted in this thesis. These frameworks are used as a lens to ‘map’ the complex networks found in a diamond-producing section and gold-producing area of Ghana, the location of one of the more dynamic and sizeable ASM economies in sub-Saharan Africa. The thesis found and reconceptualised ASM activities to be deeply embedded within social production networks characterised by trust-based, reciprocal relationships of mutual cooperation and benefit. These social production networks are shaped by long histories of interaction with ‘lead firms’ which continue to influence the contemporary functioning of ASM activities. The thesis also found that in the absence of formal support services for the sector, the so-called ‘unscrupulous middlemen’ – which architects of ethical mineral schemes aim to remove from supply chains and around whom they have managed to drum up significant public support – do, in fact, provide invaluable services and are crucial to ASM’s functioning in informal ‘spaces’. With this information and a detailed understanding of the various roles within the networks of supply, the way in which minerals move upwards through key nodes, and how local-level activities interlock with international markets, a number of key recommendations and draft blueprints are developed. The multiple and significant contributions to knowledge of this thesis are: 1) To the literature on informality and ASM with regard to unpacking the local level functioning of activities and especially the role of a range of actors often referred to collectively as ‘middlemen’. 2) The conceptual development of embeddedness, trust and reciprocity as lenses with which to conceptualise, help explain, and examine the workings of ASM production networks and with which to generate new insights. 3) The significant conceptual and theoretical advancement, and adaptation of, the Global Production Network framework in order to develop the novel Social Production Network as a tool to map and capture the fine details and dynamics, and improve understanding of, informal economic activities, and in particular, those found in artisanal and small-scale mining. 4) The development of two clear draft blueprints for action to help lead to effecting change in policy and practice and support broader formalisation efforts for the ASM sector. These are tailored to: - policymakers in Ghana to help with catalysing formalisation activities through middlemen and reaching informal and semi-formal ASM spaces, including a clear set of recommendations for key national stakeholders. - organisations looking to develop truly pro-poor ethical mineral certification initiatives, and adapt existing ones to reach informal ASM operators in Ghana, and similar geographies in sub-Saharan Africa.
Supervisor: Hilson, Gavin Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available