Capability of social life cycle assessment for analyzing the artisanal small-scale gold mining sector—case study in the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


Purpose: Gold extraction in the Amazonian rainforest is accompanied by ecological threats and social grievances, but at the same time, the artisanal small-scale gold mining sector (ASGM) provides a livelihood for many people. To address this tradeoff, this paper analyzed the social aspects and their possible relations by conducting a case study based on a Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA). This study seeks to determine whether SLCA is capable of reflecting the sector. Method: A literature-based guideline was used for collecting primary data during several field trips to the Tapajós Region in Brazil. This research instrument constituted the basis for information-oriented interviews and on-site observations. The SLCA categories used in this study were based on the United Nations Environment Programme and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (UNEP/SETAC) guidelines and the categories in the Fairmined Standard. In addition, secondary data obtained from the literature were used to provide insights into the sector. The data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis with both deductive and inductive approaches. Results and discussion: This study described the social aspects of the ASGM sector in the Tapajós Region, including the absence of the state, the illegality and informality of mining operations, the remote and rural area, and the organizational structure. In addition, the extraction methods, poor working conditions, and difficult living conditions were considered. Certain characteristics of the industry like unstable payments, worker movements, and low education levels were recognized, and thus, the relations among the social categories and rebound effects were identified. Several issues were proven to be key factors: unstable payments, autonomy, and the rebound effects of excavators. Complex relations among social issues but also towards ecological and economic issues do exist. The suitability of using the SLCA to reflect the ASGM sector was tested on this basis. Conclusion: In some respects, the SLCA had limitations, e.g., due to the nonlinear relation between working hours and the amount of extracted gold. The impacts of technology depend on the underlying definition that is used. The current lack of cause-effect models impedes the assessment of an overall picture that considers the relations among the social aspects and other elements of sustainability. A holistic view must be applied if ecological problems are to be solved.

ZeitschriftInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Seiten (von - bis)2274-2289
Anzahl der Seiten16
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 11.2020

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
The Federal Ministry of Education and Research funded the NaGold project, grant number 03FH045PX5. Acknowledgments

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).