Is there any way for a western millionaire to ethically operate an African mine? Jeffrey Wright, best known for his leading role in a show about old prospectors, wanted to prove this when he started a “conflict-free mining project” in West Africa. But like a celebrity who finds out that her sweatpants are sewn by Vietnamese toddlers, Wright soon found it difficult not to get into the typical ethical trap of the colonialists’ preferred profession with pith helmets.
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons
After partnering with an African mercenary, he met on the set of ButWright founded Taia Lion Resources, a gold exploration company dedicated to “conflict free mining”
But Taia wanted to be a generous mining master, pay above-average wages in Sierra Leone (over fifty dollars a day) and promise to put 2-3% of the company’s profits back into local communities. They even offered the local Penguia chief a silent stake in the company – with no real power and in return for their little prospectors working to uncover the precious veins they could no longer call their own.
The Sierra Leoneans soon realized that whatever Wright’s good intentions were to look for impoverished Africans for gold would not happen. Despite his many promises of wealth and prosperity, Wright and his partners never managed to drive their mining companies into the ground. (In your business is a bad thing). Since Taiah’s mining company was unable to get the actual wages, it started to wear off and the company had to start tightening its belt. Not that the miners of this ethical African mine had belts right from the start. Sierra Leone workers soon complained of missing wages and did not get the workwear they requested – something Wright’s critics had found to be quite contradicting his conflict-free mining promise.