Fair Trade Gold: A New Way of Governing Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Tanzania?

  • John Childs

Student thesis: Phd


Alongside exponential rises in global prices for gold, there has been a concurrent rise in the geographical scope of the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) sector. This poverty-driven activity has been associated with elevated levels of environmental degradation, a high degree of informality, poor health and safety practices and below market prices for their gold. Despite these putatively conceived problems, there has been a historical and widespread failure by policy makers to significantly improve thesocio-economic and environmental conditions facing ASM's operators. Recently, however, there has been a noticeable shift in the ways in which the governance of the sector is enacted. This thesis critically analyses the emergence of one such example, namely the Fairtrade Labelling Organistion and the Alliance for Responsible Mining's dual launch of 'Fairtrade' and 'Fairmined' (FT/FM) certified gold. Inspired by the past successes for the movement in a range of agrifood products and grounded in the discourse of 'fairness', its application to ASM promises better prices in exchange for the fulfilment of standards relating to environmental stewardship,a commitment to democratic structures and responsible mining practices. Following the experiences of Fairtrade gold in nine pilot projects in Latin America, its expansion into gold producing countries in sub-Saharan African countries seems inevitable. However, there has been a lack of academic research into its efficacy, a gap that this thesis fills by examining the potential of both the discursive and material ways that Fairtrade and Fairmined gold may operate in Tanzania. It is revealed that ASM operators are negatively represented by conventional thinking as variously criminal, irresponsible and irrational. Against this background, it is argued that the intervention of FT/FM gold can be read through an environmental and social justice framework, one that presents a counter-narrative of ASM as a valued livelihood strategy marked by environmental responsibility. The struggles for greater recognition and more equitable distribution for ASM operators are premised, most critically on a movetowards a new, 'fair' way of mining. Building upon a critical examination of the politics of these discursiveconstructs, the thesis presents a critical examination of 'fairness' in practice through a case study. Indeed, a private company, African Precious Metals (APM), has constructed four 'Fair Trade Gold Centres' that offer ASM operators in the Mwanza and Shinyanga regions of Tanzania a new means of selling gold. Ideologically separate to the FT/FM model outlined above, their presence in local marketing arrangements for ASM gold has served to obscure the way that 'fairness' is conceptualised by ASM operators in the area. Moreover, their substantive failure in policy terms, allied to their close rhetorical association with FT/FM, has served to damage the moral ballast of 'fairness' found in the 'Fairtrade' gold discourse.Through the critical analysis of life histories narrated by ASM operators in Tanzania, this thesis reveals that there is a substantive gap between the ways in which 'fairness' in discursively conceptualised and how it is practically realised. Notable findings that compromise FT/FM's potential efficacy include the fact that the 'Fair Trade' price is significantly lower than local market conditions and that, in the light of their historical failure, there is a deeply-rooted mistrust of development intervention more broadly. In struggling for a 'fair' future for ASM's operators, the Fairtrade movement must also remain careful to avoid the paternalism that has defined erstwhile ASM policy that has promoted partnership. John Childs, The University of Manchester, PhD, 20th September 2011
Date of Award1 Aug 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAdmos Chimhowu (Supervisor)


  • Mining
  • Fairtrade

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