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Tackling child labor: A joint force

Fair Materials

A consortium of partners, led by Fairphone, implemented a project in Busia, Uganda from July 2017 until March 2021. The project aim was to improve and support the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) communities by eradicating child labor and establishing a sustainable, traceable gold supply chain that creates a better future for miners and their families.

With the project coming to an end, a third-party evaluation of the project gives us a good overview of the results achieved and lessons learned during the project. While this evaluation is new, we have written about this very topic many times before. Tackling child labor and encouraging fair, sustainable and safe mining practices is the reason Fairphone was born. This project is close to our hearts as it allows us to create impact, to put our money where our mouth is and actively be a part of the change we want to see in the industry.

Project summary

Project interventions took place at four levels – national and district, community and school, mine, and supply chain levels – key actors that need to be involved in the root causes of child labor at ASM sites. Three goals were identified for this program: 1) preventing and combating child labor; 2) improving health & safety at mine sites; and 3) increasing ASM miners’ access to investment while creating a clear path to formal markets.

 

Impact so far

The evaluation shows that results have been mixed within all levels of program implementation. While awareness has increased and attitudes have positively shifted, a long-term action roadmap needs to be created to fully reach the program objectives. However, even small achievements are quite significant as they are the first steps toward change.

Summary of results:

  1. An increase in knowledge among government officials has led to more involvement at the district and national levels.
  2. Motivation centers were set up to support children and youth who dropped out of school and/or are working, by helping them reintegrate back into school. Results showed that 65 children mainstreamed back into school (primary/secondary/vocational), while 86 youth received vocational training.
  3. Among the miners surveyed, 85% positively changed their attitude, including behavior, towards child labor since receiving project-related interventions.
  4. The main result at the supply chain level was the development of the Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) Performance & Risk Management Handbook for Artisanal & Small-Scale Mining.

All partners contributed with their respective experience and expertise to the implementation of the project. Beyond leading the project, Fairphone also led the engagement with our own suppliers as well as industry peers in order to generate demand for responsibly mined ASM gold. The evaluation report recognizes the difficulty that project partners faced with regard to supply and demand – a true chicken and egg scenario.

For more on this topic read the project evaluation and our document on inspiring practices.

While progress has been made, instances of child labor has recently gone up. There are many contributing factors, such as the increase in awareness and reporting – which led to an increase in identifying (also a positive) instances of child labor –, difficulty with implementing intervention measures, and the effects of COVID.

 

The impacts of Covid-19 can not be underestimated. Schools in the project area have been closed for over a year due to Covid, and many children took up work in the mines in order to generate income for their family. As a result, a limited number of children benefited from the motivational centres. Addressing the purpose, role and limitations of these centers in supporting youth of all ages will be key in moving forward.

Moving forward

Key lessons learned from this program will serve as our foundation for the next phase and we will identify more targeted approaches. For example, project partners could place focus on key areas where they might be most successful. External stakeholders would then fill in the gap in the areas that are outside the partners’ influence.

Strides have been made and the results reflect positive changes due to the increase in capacity building, education and awareness. Through this project, we have been able to identify what has worked, what needs to be improved and what can be added in the next phase of the project in order to make the most impact.

At the community level, the work will continue through the Work: No Child’s Business program, led by our partner Hivos. They will expand their scope to include other mining areas in Uganda and empower communities to address child labor.

At the mine level, the next phase of this project is the Lake Victoria Gold Program – a four-year program in Kenya and Uganda that will focus on responsible mining by enabling access to improved equipment and capacity building for several dozen formal ASM gold operations. Both efforts envision communities that are equipped with the necessary resilience and strength when faced with adversity and Fairphone will be there every step of the way.

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