This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

Hello friends! It’s Thursday again, the day we look forward to inflicting our blog posts upon you. As promised, we’re going to tell you a little about SSF’s efforts to combat debt bondage and child slavery in the small scale gold mining industry.

Understanding galamsey (small scale mining) is central to the formulation of an effective strategy designed to combat abuses within the industry. First, a little background.

Multi-national corporations like Anglo Gold Ashanti hold mining concessions to vast tracts of land in gold-rich regions, like Obuasi and its environs, and have been grandfathered in to a virtual monopoly on gold mining in Ghana. Though these companies employ a large number of Ghanaians, there is simply not enough work to go around. But like during the Gold Rush in the US, there’s gold fever here, and everyone wants a piece. That’s where the galamsey industry comes in.

Here’s how it works. A would-be galamsey miner identifies a site he thinks will produce gold. A multi-national corporation probably owns the land, but that’s not cause for concern: the majority of galamsey mining takes place illegally, on land for which the operation does not have concession. Since the prospective miner’s operation will be illegal, he cannot approach traditional lenders and is forced to get a high interest loan (50% or more) from a loan shark. With this initial loan, he begins mining the site. However, it can take months for a mine to become productive, so the miner must take out more high interest loans to finance operations. Because financing costs are so high (and climb rapidly due to compounding interest), the galamsey miner will keep operating costs as low as possible. As his operation is illegal and thus clandestine, there is no body of oversight to prevent the abuses these cost cuts often entail.

Because the miner must keep operational costs low, conditions at the site are unsafe, environmental degradation runs rampant, and using victims of debt bondage for labor is common. Due to their low labor cost and their susceptibility to bondage, children are also employed in the mines and are sometimes enslaved in the process. The miner must work until he pays off his loan, which becomes increasingly difficult as his debt skyrockets. Often, repayment becomes impossible and the miner himself enters into debt bondage, condemning those working for him to enslavement, as well.

Now that we understand the problem, we must seek to resolve it.

When I first imagined the fight against slavery, I envisioned dashing philanthropists swooping in to make daring rescues of grateful slaves, leaving chagrined evil slaveholders in the dust shaking their fists in frustration.

The solution to slavery is obviously more complex. While it’s easy to vilify and shame those who perpetrate slavery, a confrontational approach is not always the most successful. Rather, all parties must be brought into the process to fight slavery at its roots and to eliminate the circumstances that make slavery possible. While swooping in and saving slaves paints a pretty picture, it can create incentives for the slaveholders to further drive their operations underground, and there is no shortage of impoverished and desperate individuals susceptible to becoming enslaved. Thus, the cycle continues until the next batch of rescues occurs, ad nauseam.

The only way to prevent this from happening is to change the nature of the entire situation. SSF is endeavoring to do just that, and succeeding. Check back next week to see how.

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