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Colombia: the gold rush impacting the environment and communities
Colombia: the gold rush impacting the environment and communities
20 January 2023#Sustainability

Colombia: the gold rush impacting the environment and communities

Stefano Guindani as part of the BG4SDGs project went to Colombia to photograph SDG number 8

BG4SDGs - Time to Change's camera eye puts "Decent Work and Economic Growth" in the crosshairs by going to explore the critical issues and human efforts to overcome the enormous employment-induced social barrier in a country with extraordinary natural resources, a champion of biodiversity but also of lawlessness and widespread poverty: Colombia.

The focus is on working conditions in the gold mines, which, along with coffee, are symbolic of a country where 42 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 90 percent of the extraction of the precious metal takes place without official concessions.

The new story of the eleventh appointment of BG4SDGs - Time to Change, a project developed in collaboration with photographer Stefano Guindani to tell the state of the art of the UN 2030 Agenda, starts right here, from Colombia, going to depict a virtuous and sustainable example of a work - that in the gold mines - that has always been the cross and delight of the South American country.

Indeed, the photographer's lens this time rested on Sustainable Development Goal number 8: "Promote lasting, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full employment and decent work for all." A goal that is as complex as it is challenging, bringing together within it elements that contribute greatly to eradicating poverty in emerging countries.

The Fairmined project

Over the years, gold panning turned into mining has had and still has a huge impact on the environment, health and working conditions of citizens. There are in fact 350,000 people in Colombia who carry out work in the gold sector through artisanal production that sustains the many families even in the most remote areas of the country.

This is an important number that invites reflection on how much mining can negatively or positively impact civil society depending on the right or wrong choices made by local institutions and those involved in ensuring optimal conditions for miners, who are often victims of internal conflicts, child labor or lack of gender equity.

Paying the price, in addition to the inhabitants, is the environment exposed to numerous pollutants including mercury widely used during the mining of gold and other metals. In fact, one hundred tons of the toxic liquid metal are leaked into the environment every year, polluting the soil and groundwater, compromising the health of miners and people living near the mines.

Since 2018, when Colombia decided to get rid of mercury, however, things are changing. In such a complex context based on dynamics that have made the history of South American countries, making an exception is Fairmined, the initiative created to certify the provenance of gold mined without the use of mercury and in ways that are in harmony with nature, the inhabitants and workers by promoting sustainable development and contributing to the transformation of the lives of mining communities. In addition to being paid a fair price, producers receive a cash premium ranging from $4 to $6 per gram mined depending on whether or not chemicals are used during extraction. With this premium, small artisans can reinvest it towards projects dedicated to gender equality, the environment or human rights.

Stefano Guindani, photographer Stefano Guindani, photographer
Gold mining performed in a sustainable way, without the use of toxic and highly polluting materials, can only improve the living conditions of the miners and also of all the people living along the waterways, ensuring local development and economic growth of these communities. Often the money earned, through sustainable gold mining, can be reinvested in crops such as coffee, which is another great wealth of Colombia. It was very hard to verify that even to this day more than 70 percent of the mines use mercury to extract the precious mineral, with great damage and consequences for the surrounding environment.