• Kate Seow

Spotlight on Fairtrade Gold

We are right in the middle of Fairtrade Fortnight 2019, and although the emphasis this year is on cocoa producers, I would like to tell you a little bit about Fairtrade Gold (seeing as I make jewellery rather than chocolate!) You may remember that I became a registered Fairtrade Goldsmith in December 2018, as well as gaining my Fairtrade Ambassador's certification at about the same time. This means that I am able to offer you jewellery made from Fairtrade Gold - but what is Fairtrade Gold, and why does it matter?

First, we need to know where our gold comes from. Of all the gold processed in a year, about 60% of it is newly mined, with 80% of that coming from large-scale mines throughout the world, and 20% from small-scale and artisanal mines. The remaining 40% is made up of recycled gold, with the majority of that coming from the jewellery industry, and a fraction coming from recycled electronics.

There are many issues surrounding gold mining, including environmental concerns such as maintaining water quality in the immediate mine vicinity, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and protecting biodiversity near the mine site. There are also humanitarian concerns, such as providing safe working conditions for miners and ensuring that the income from the sale of gold doesn't go towards funding regional conflicts. Many large-scale mines are highly mechanised, and run by international companies that are subject to at least some regulations. Small-scale and artisanal mines, however, are often run by impoverished local communities who have no other source of income. For this reason, they are vulnerable to exploitation, and suffer from dangerous working conditions, child labour and unacceptably low wages.

Mining is a dirty business, generating dust and pollution, and it contributes to deforestation.*

The Fairtrade organisation works specifically with small-scale and artisanal miners to ensure they are paid a decent price for their gold and are able to work safely. Miners are provided with protective equipment and training on safe working, such as how to handle and dispose of potentially dangerous chemicals safely. In addition, the miners receive a premium that can go towards schools, healthcare, improved sanitation or anything else that they feel they need within their community to improve their lives and that of their families. No-one under the age of 15 is allowed to work in the mines, and only miners aged 18 or over are allowed to work in dangerous situations or with chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. The use of these chemicals is kept minimal, with a view to eliminating them entirely over time. It should be noted that these chemicals are still allowed, as prohibiting their use would effectively shut down the mine, and deny miners their income. The miners are encouraged to form workers' unions which allows them to negotiate their working conditions and prices for their gold.

Before becoming a Fairtrade certified mine, the Fairtrade organisation works with the mine to ensure that the environmental impact is reduced as much as possible, for example reducing soil and water pollution, and reducing deforestation. There is still an environmental burden, but it is not thought to be any greater than large-scale mining, and may even be less. One of the things that the Fairtrade Premium is spent on is investing in green alternatives to traditional mining techniques, such as using less hazardous chemicals for gold extraction. The Fairtrade organisation is currently working with mines and mining groups to produce Ecological Fairtrade Gold - it is not yet commercially available, but I am keen to use it when it is.

Ecological Fairtrade Gold can be obtained through techniques such as "panning" where no chemicals are needed to extract the gold from its ore.*

The next question to ask is, why not use recycled gold? To start with there simply isn't enough recycled gold to meet yearly global demand. In addition to this, there is no way of knowing where the gold came from originally - it could be over a hundred years old, or it could be last year's newly mined gold. Either way, that gold could have been mined by a child, or could have paid for weapons for terrorist groups. Outside of the Fairtrade regulations, there is little to no traceability, and gold from various sources is commonly refined together.

Fairtrade Gold, on the other hand, will have been produced by one of three mines or mining organisations in the world - they are in Peru, Uganda and Kenya. When I purchase Fairtrade Gold, I know where it has come from. I know that the miners are adults working in safe conditions. I know that I am supporting them in building their communities, educating their children and keeping themselves and their families healthy. I know that there is a commitment to reduce the environmental impact as much as possible. This is why I choose to work with Fairtrade Gold.

Here is a recent commission. The Villefranche earrings are made from 18kt yellow Fairtrade Gold, along with blue lapis lazuli and green malachite beads.

Regardless of whether you are buying a special piece of jewellery or a bar of chocolate, I hope you will consider choosing Fairtrade products. If you would like to find out more about Fairtrade, or how gold is produced, please take a look at the links below. I used many of these to help me source the information here, as well as the knowledge I gained through the Fairtrade Ambassador's Scheme. Remember to look out for the Fairtrade sign!

*Please note: I have used stock images here. They are not taken at specific Fairtrade mines as I don't have the rights to use those. Please follow the links above to see Fairtrade's own photos and videos.

All information is correct at the time of publication, and where there are discrepancies between sources, I have defaulted to the information provided in the Fairtrade Gold Ambassador's course.

I will update the 2018 banner as soon as it is available (I've been promised not long now!)

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