The mining debate in Colombia will increasingly need to distinguish between traditional, artisanal (often illegal) mining and large-scale mining. Whilst worlds apart in almost every way conceivable they share the same noun – mining – which is why the general public confuses the one with the other and associates the maladies of the former to the potential of the latter. Traditional mining destroys the environment and pays no tax, but everyone from farmers to senators hear the word mining and think that the modern large-scale miners and explorers destroy the environment and pay no tax. Through the recently formed Large-Scale Mining Association, 13 of Colombia’s biggest mining companies have started to address this issue and better educate people.
“One of the biggest challenges from the point of view of the environment is the battle against [illegal] exploitation that is putting at risk the ecological richness of the country. Illegal mining does not comply with any rule; they do not have mining titles or environmental licenses, they use little technology, deteriorate water sources, risk the health of their workers and give poor quality jobs. Nor do they pay taxes or royalties,” says executive director Claudia Jimenez.
The mining association is creating a self-regulating code for its members to promote responsible mining in terms of the environment, community Relations, industrial safety, human rights and economic transparency that will be a higher standard than Colombian law demands.
By operating to this code and annually reporting its results, the association hopes to give better understanding to politicians and the public alike about the actual performance of large miners and the contribution they make to the country and the communities in which they operate, and thus help distinguish themselves from the artisanal miners that cause negative impacts.
At the end of July Colombia enacted a law to combat illegal mining. Law 1450 of 2011 prohibits the use of dredges and other mechanical equipment for mining activities without a mining title that is registered in the National Mining Register. The law requires the government to implement a strategy that distinguishes between informal or traditional mining, and illegal mining.
The law also calls for the mining authority to publish a list of mining titleholders that are in the exploitation stage that have all necessary licenses, and of those agents that are authorized to commercialise minerals. From the start of 2012, commercial agents will only be allowed to purchase minerals from miners that are on the mining authority list.