Dr James McQuilken

PhD Student

Qualifications: Bsc, MSc


Further information


  • MSc Environment and Development, University of Reading, Distinction
  • BSc Geography University of Southampton, 2:1 Upper Division.

Research Interests

Fair Trade Gold Certification in sub-Saharan Africa: A Viable Poverty Alleviation Strategy?

'The recent and rapid introduction of ethical mineral production schemes in sub-Saharan Africa, most of which are grounded in Fair Trade principles and attempt to alleviate the hardships of artisanal operators, have been largely overlooked in the literature. 

Despite valiant attempts to design and implement pro-poor ethical mineral schemes, NGOs and Fair Trade certification bodies seem to have underestimated the task at hand, failing to recognise the unique challenges with operating in the region as well as the dynamics of its artisanal mining activities.

It is against the background of these challenges that the research seeks to broaden understanding of the demographics of mining groups operating in rural sub- Saharan Africa, the dynamics of their operations and the intricacies of the supply chains they are a part of. 

It will ascertain the degree of understanding and awareness of policymakers, NGOs and practitioners of the fundamental, context-specific, and dynamic challenges that artisanal mine operators face with the aim of identifying the ingredients of effective ‘pro-poor’ Fair Trade ASM schemes. 

The research will offer a much-needed perspective on how to connect small-scale gold miners, many of whom are trapped in poverty, to Western consumers through certification.


Banchirigah, S.D., (2006). How have reforms fuelled the expansion of artisanal mining? Resources Policy, Vol. 31, pp. 165-171.

Barry, M., (1996). Regularizing Informal Mining: A Summary of the Proceedings of the International Roundtable o Artisanal Mining. Organized by the World Bank, Industry and Energy Department Occasional Paper No. 6, Washington, May 1995.

Hilson, G.M., Garforth, C.J., (2012). ''Agricultural Poverty' and the Explansion of Artisanlal Mining: Case Studies from West Africa'. Springer Verlag Population Research and Policy Review, 31 (3), pp. 435-464.

Hilson, G.M, and Pardie, S., (2006). Mercury: An agent of poverty in Ghana’s small-scale gold-mining sector? Resources Policy, Vol. 31, pp. 106-116.

Perks, R., (2011). ‘Can I Go?’ – Exiting The Artisanal Mining Sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Journal of International Development. Vol. 23, (8), Special issue, pp. 1115-1127.


Journal articles

  • Hilson GM, Hilson A, Maconachie R, Mcquilken JT, Goumandakoye H. (2017) 'Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) in Sub-Saharan Africa: Re-conceptualizing Formalization and ‘Illegal’ Activity'. Geoforum, 83, pp. 80-90.


    This article contributes to the debate on the formalization of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – low-tech, labour-intensive mineral extraction and processing – in developing countries. A unique sector populated by an eclectic group of individuals, ASM has expanded rapidly in all corners of the world in recent years. Most of its activities, however, are informal, scattered across lands which are not officially titled. But growing recognition of the sector's economic importance, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, has forced donors, and to some extent, policymakers, to ‘rethink’ development strategies for ASM. As part of broader moves to improve the regulation of, and occasionally intensify the delivery of assistance to, the sector, many are now searching frantically for fresh ideas on how to bring operations into the legal domain, where, it is believed, they can be regulated, monitored and supported more effectively. A challenging exercise, this entails first determining, with some degree of precision, why people choose to operate informally in this sector. Drawing on analysis from the literature and findings from research conducted in Ghana and Niger, it is argued that the legalist school (on informality) in part explains how governments across sub-Saharan Africa are ‘creating’ bureaucracies which are stifling the formalization of ASM activities in the region. A more nuanced development strategy grounded in local realities is needed if formalization is to have a transformative effect on the livelihoods of those engaged in ASM in the region and elsewhere in the developing world.

  • Hilson GM, Hilson A, Mcquilken JT. (2016) 'Ethical minerals: Fairer trade for whom?'. Resources Policy, 49, pp. 232-247.


    This paper offers preliminary reflections on the direction and impact of the emerging ‘ethical minerals’ agenda, focusing specifically on the case of sub-Saharan Africa. Over the past two decades, the mining industry in this region has experienced profound change, reshaped by large injections of foreign investment. During this period, host governments have redrafted fiscal policies in an attempt to attract multinational mining and exploration companies. These moves, however, have stifled the regularization of artisanal and small-scale mine operators, hundreds of thousands of whom have struggled to secure their own permits due to a lack of available land, the exorbitant costs of legalizing their activities, and excessively-bureaucratic registration processes. Ethical mineral schemes and standards, which seek to connect producers to consumers, have been championed as potential mechanisms for alleviating the hardships of these operators. But further analysis reveals that there is considerable discrepancy between the implied and at times, stated, aims and impacts of the interventions being piloted/implemented in the region on the one hand, and what is actually happening in practice on the other hand. The analysis serves as a stark reminder that the ethical mineral schemes and standards being piloted/implemented are not development interventions, as is often believed.

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