Due to the considerable impact mining activity has on its immediate surroundings, there is vigorous debate over to what extent mining can be conducted sustainably. To date, there are few if any examples of a fully sustainable mine. A number of organisations, including the UN, the OECD, and the World Bank, have developed international standards to limit the negative impacts of mineral extraction as much as possible. Despite this, reports persist of severe cases of abuse at mines all over the world, with people’s rights being violated, and land, air, and water being contaminated.
Mines tend to be vast operations, below or above ground, that are dependent on machinery. However, informal mining of minerals – so-called small-scale extraction – is also common and practiced predominantly in Central and West Africa, but also in Asia and South America. Extraction is frequently conducted in isolated areas, in poorly or entirely unregulated environments where primitive tools – spades and pickaxes – are used, and where safety equipment is non-existent.