The mining organisation Sociedad de Trabajadores Mineros S.A. (SOTRAMI) was established in 1989 by informal artisanal miners working in an abandoned mine in the Atacama Desert, Central Peru.
SOTRAMI’s 300 miners work in a hard-rock mine which tunnels into the side of a mountain. Miners need to be physically fit to enter the mine and get to the deeper levels. Miners use dynamite to blast out an area of rock which they then dig further with hand or pneumatic drill for ore, before it is sorted on the surface. Air is pumped from the surface to the deeper levels of the mine to ensure miners can work safely.
Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) attracts an economically weak and vulnerable rural and urban workforce. Miners and their families live in nearby Santa Filomena, which was established by small-scale agriculturalists, unemployed and landless people displaced by violence in other regions of Peru, who took to informal mining. The mine supports 500 families. The area mined by SOTRAMI was owned and operated by an American mining company. In the 1970s the price of gold dropped and the Peruvian government nationalised mining meaning the American mining company had to leave the area. The miners who formed SOTRAMI informally mined arrived in the area shortly after later forming SOTRAMI, the first ASM company in Peru. Today there are 88 shareholder workers in two groups and an additional 30 self-employed miners working in the mine plus the women’s group and five engineers who manage the mine and processing plant.
SOTRAMI’S PARTNERSHIP WITH FAIRTRADE.
As a result of economic crisis in Peru during the 1980s many people migrated to gold mining areas like the Atacama Desert in search of work. After the formation of the company SOTRAMI the group began working towards the elimination of child labour and working towards international labour standards, which today form the basis of the Fairtrade standard for gold. Victor Juan Hurtado Padella, 67, Deputy Mayor of Santa Filomena, explained, ‘until conditions were made safer the women and children were unable to live with the miners. We have learnt that children should not work but should be in school.’
The Atacama Desert suffers high daytime temperatures and receives little rainfall in an area with elevations above 2,000m which makes the supply of clean safe water unreliable. SOTRMAI now have permission to use a spring which is drying up to supply the community and processing plant. SOTRAMI used to exchange partially processed ore containing small amounts of gold for water, however this is no longer common practice. Sometimes the water supply, which is delivered in weekly rations in barrels, is not always purified properly causing sickness. Victor explained that ‘miners used to carry five gallon barrels of water for cooking but there was not enough to wash in. They had to leave when the water ran out, but since then a road as been built and we now have buses which transport water to us.’
SOTRAMI use cyanide to process the gold they mine as they cannot use water and gravimetrical methods to extract pure gold from ore due to the scarcity of water in the region. SOTRAMI have built their own processing plant which means they can now more efficiently process ore for higher quality gold and better prices. This also means that chemicals are only used by trained workers. Mining operations can pollute and deplete local water sources if not properly managed in agreement with their local community. SOTRAMI must ensure drainage of effluents from processing areas must be disposed of safely and neutralised to remove toxic substances. SOTRAMI have reduced their environmental impact and as they process much less ore than large-scale mining per ounce of gold, the magnitude of its impact on the land is much smaller. The use of pollution control technology with good environmental management has brought significant improvements. Fairtrade environmental requirements are designed to manage, reduce and mitigate the use of toxic substances, to control emissions of dust to air, and mud effluents into water systems, and to ensure proper water management, enhance ecological restoration practices, including protection of biodiversity, whilst taking into account their human and capital resources in the short and longer term. Fairtrade recognises that it is not always possible to produce gold without the use of chemicals due to geology and a lack of water resources, like at SOTRAMI.
Although no women work inside the mine, they work on the surface sorting ore for processing. Gina Davila aged 29, is married to a miner and has two children aged four and five. Gina is a mineral sorter, which means she sorts the ore by selecting pieces which contain gold with a tool called a ‘manito’ (little hand), which is sold to SOTRAMI, who then process it and sell it on. 180 women work in shifts who at the end of each month share income made between them. The women are all members of the ‘Pallaqueras’ (mineral sorters) Women’s Association which was established in 2003 in response to the need to arrange shift work which allows women and single mothers to work safely and organised. There are two groups who work 2-6pm daily around childcare demands and domestic responsibilities. Through Fairtrade, Gina has met other women who mine in South America and received training on health and safety in the workplace. This network provides support and has inspired the women to establish a crèche so that childcare can be shared and women can work without taking their children to the mine site. Gina explained, ‘it was very awkward taking our children to work and it was very bad for the children, breathing in all that dust.’
FAIRTRADE PREMIUM PROJECTS
SOTRAMI are working with the Fairtrade system particularly in the areas of health and safety and democratic organisation. As Victor explained, ‘there have been so many changes since we have organised ourselves into a company’. However since the global launch of Fairtrade gold in early 2011 they have begun to trade their gold and receive a Fairtrade minimum price and Fairtrade premium for their gold from Spring 2011. Victor explained, ‘before we used to mine the gold and sell it to an intermediary who paid for it, then he sold it to someone else and so on until it was exported. But now since the arrival of Fairtrade to support us, we already have better prices and people cannot cheat on us so easily.’
The community in Santa Filomena has established a pre-school for 140 local children, which means not only do children have access to education but also have somewhere safe to be looked after while their parents are working. With Fairtrade premium the teachers want to hire someone to maintain the building and secure a reliable water supply for the children. As the number of children attending is increasing more teachers also need to be recruited. Gina from the women’s group really likes having the pre-school but explained, ‘I’m not totally happy with the state of the crèche. I’d like more things such as someone specialised in childcare so we do not have to look after the children ourselves. When I got married I hoped to give my children a better life, education and the opportunity to go to university… the pre-school and crèche opens up these chances to my children.’
Gina believes, ‘if we sell through Fairtrade we’ll be able to receive the premium and this will be a great help for the whole community.’ They have also invested the premium into the health care available to the community.
Victor would like to use Fairtrade premium to re-connect the community to the internet so that they can monitor the international gold prices and sell directly to customers as well as allowing children to study ICT.