Minerals are becoming a very popular source of ingredients for natural personal care products, including deodorants and cosmetics. More often than not, consumers are more interested in whether or not the product is effective and natural rather than how and where do the mineral ingredients come from.
Minerals are naturally extracted from the Earth’s crust by mining companies. The mining industry is dominated by a handful of large companies that can simultaneously finance many mines on their own. But lesser know companies, like junior miners require outside financing and are mostly exploratory, searching for the next big find. However, small-scale mining, or “micro” mining, is practiced in about 50 countries by people who live in the poorest and most remote rural areas, with few employment alternatives. Small-scale mining refers to mining by individuals, groups, families or cooperatives with minimal or no mechanization, and account for approximately 15 to 20% of the world’s non-fuel mineral production.
Although small and basic, small scale miners are supplying valuable minerals to the cosmetic industry, including: bauxite, kalunite, zinc, iron oxides, sericite, mica, different types of magnesium, various base metals, and more. Even though they are providing a valuable service, small scale miners are traditionally unorganized and without a voice in the international mining industry. Furthermore, they struggle to receive financing and bring their minerals to market.
Worldwide at least 15 million people engage in small scale mining, and a further 80 million people depend on it for their livelihood, mainly in the Andes region of South America and Africa. These numbers will surely continue to grow as does the price for minerals.
To this day in regions around the world natural resources are being exploited using a model of a stipend for the use of the land with the promise of jobs. Additionally, large scale mining companies often come to areas of small-scale mining and create conflict around issues of land ownership rights which can result in bidding wars backed by the deep pockets of the mega miners.
An opportunity remains for the small communities to gain control of the resources through manageable organic growth of community owned companies. The communities have the potential to mine the mineral deposits, such as kalunite spread throughout the Andes. If NGOs and governments become involved and provide the necessary support for the local communities, consultants can take the lead from exploration through closure while providing long-term stable employment for people in the community. Small scale mining can be used as a catalyst for economic growth and sustainable development.
If the natural and organic cosmetic market is seeking natural minerals, it is not hard to find. Large companies do a great job of extraction, logistics and sale. But at what cost? And who is benefiting?
The idea is to be able to create products that use minerals that are natural, healthy, safe, but also sustainable and fair. Natural and organic cosmetics are about nature and harmony, and of course effectiveness, but not at the cost of exploiting poor rural communities in developing countries. Natural products can support local communities that need help the most by sourcing minerals from small scale mining projects and small community based mining companies, instead of buying from the giant mining companies who can muscle their way in to remote areas and exploit the natural resources.
However, small scale mining can result in a range of negative environmental and social impacts. Unfortunately, small scale mining has become known for its high environmental costs and poor health and safety record. Environmental issues can include erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity, and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals from mining processes. But it is important to note that these environmental harms are not only isolated to small scale mining projects. Large companies, though better educated and prepared, can create environmental problems as well.
By promoting the right conditions for the development of small scale mines and educating the community on environmental best practices, an opportunity will be granted for poor communities to contribute to the formal economy and supply the cosmetic industry with valuable minerals. It is this ideology that more Latin American and other regions of the world should embrace in order to help reduce poverty by building sustainable communities where small-scale mining is an important economic activity. If this goal is met it will allow for long-term efficient mineral extraction by small communities, with access to fair markets and sources of credit.
You can help show your support for small scale mining and contact CASM and learn how you can help. Also, become aware where you minerals come from. Talk to your supplies and insist on fair trade products that are mined sustainably using local small scale mining companies.