Research : As Good As Gold?
As I become increasingly aware of the global impact of my choices as a consumer in my daily life, it is obvious that I should look to my work as well.
I am going to embark on a series of 'research' blog posts and share what I learn as I go long. Mining generally has a pretty bad reputation but I want to take a deep-dive and look at different forms of mining and how the local communities and environment are affected by the process.
Hopefully by now anyone that has any contact with me knows I am running the Richmond Half Marathon to raise money for the Fairtrade Premium and support the gold mining communities in Peru. (PLEASE DONATE, the page is active until 15/10/19)
So... what is Fairtrade gold?
All of the information below is what I have read whilst trawling through the dissipated pages relating to Fairtrade Gold on the official Fairtrade website, links at the end. In future posts I will try to find the sources of to some of the facts and figures they use or simply things that I think I need expanding on.
At the end of each post I will list my own questions I have following what I have read. If you are reading this and want me to find an answer or have an answer or have a correction please email me, I am doing this as an exercise of public learning!
What is Fairtrade Gold?
“Fairtrade Certified Gold is the world’s first independent ethical certification system for gold.” [Fairtrade.org]
Fairtrade Certified Gold means that small-scale and artisanal miners earn a fair price. Fairtrade Gold miners also receive money, the Fairtrade Premium, to invest in the community. This helps support their families, education, medical care and environmental projects.
Who are are these small-scale miners?
I would always encourage people to reuse and recycle but that does not solve the problems that surround gold mining. Miners may have no other means of income. When there is a lack of education or industry it makes the miners vulnerable to be exploited due to a lack of choice and the unfair pay means there is little chance of social mobility.
"90% of gold miners globally are artisanal and small-scale miners and an estimated 100 million people worldwide rely on small-scale mining to support their families and communities. Miners work in remote areas and have few other options for making a living.”
In London you see the word 'artisanal' thrown around to justify a really expensive loaf of bread but in this case the word refers to something that is produced in limited quantities by an artisan through the use of traditional methods. Essentially doing things the old-fashioned, pre-mechanised way which is cute when you're a bakery in East London but less great when the work is dirty, exhausting and dangerous and you do not have an alternative way of doing things.
According to Fairtrade, 60% of the gold that is used annually is newly mined and the rest is recycled. It is important to remember that gold is not exclusively used in jewellery but frequently used in dentistry, medical instruments, aerospace equipment and electronics as it is an efficient conductor so it is used in electronics from mobile phones to televisions.
According to Fairtrade, 20% of this newly mined gold is produced by the small-scale miners that they aim to support. Therefore 80% of the newly mined gold is from large-scale mining sites which will come with its own host of issues but that I currently know little about.
So perhaps this sounds like buying Fairtrade might not make a big impact? Well Fairtrade say “100 million people worldwide depend on small-scale mining for their survival.” It is suggested that poverty pushes men, women and children into gold mining so by paying a fair wage we can help lift them out of a situation in which they may found themselves and be unable to change.
“In non-Fairtrade small-scale gold mines, miners extract the precious metal using toxic chemicals such as mercury, which is harmful for human health and the environment” [Fairtrade.org]
The toxic chemicals used in the mining process include mercury and cyanide which can poison both the people and the water supply. The use of mercury is cheaper than safer methods of processing gold but can lead to birth defects as well as damage the brain and kidneys.
When the miners are working in small-scale and artisanal practices it is hard for them to have a powerful voice or obtain machinery that removes the need for mercury and cyanide. Fairtrade is intended to provide support for better working practices and pay without taking away their independence.
Famously it is mercury that causes the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland to go mad as Erethism, mercury poisoning, was a real problem in England at the time of Lewis Carroll. Mercury can contaminate the whole area by leaking into the water supply, entering the food chain through the fish. The dust and mud can go on to pollute the air and soil causing deforestation and harming wildlife so providing education and equipment to miners is vital to help both the people and the environment.
Fairtrade educates the miners on how to restrict the use of mercury and handle it to cause the least amount of damage but also give an extra 15% pay to those who manage to switch to cleaner technologies.
“The Fairtrade Gold Standards include strict requirements on working conditions, health and safety, handling chemicals, women’s rights, child labour and protection of the environment.” [Fairtrade.org]
Miners working on a small scale lack regulation and legal protection so that despite fluctuations in the global price of gold, they are offered below the market price. The knock on effect of this is that they do not make a profit to be able to invest in improving their mining practices or communities.
Fairtrade Certified miners have to adhere to strict standards of health and safety to become a Fairtrade certified mine, with safety training and protective equipment being obligatory. There are mining laws but they were created considering the work of large-scale mines and so small-scale mines that are not Fairtrade are poorly regulated with the rate of accidents approximately six times higher.
It is easy to judge people who resort to using child labour but when people are living in poverty and not being paid a fair wage I can only feel sympathy for their having to resort to such desperate measures to help increase their family’s income. If a mine uses child labour it cannot be certified Fairtrade.
As with so many of the materials we use in the jewellery industry, gold is often found in countries that are suffering with armed conflict. Large companies, in theory, are able to regulate the movement of their resources but small-scale mines are poorly regulated and so the movement of gold is hard to trace. Fairtrade is able to audit responsible mining and ensure a higher level of traceability.
A core issue when it comes to things like gold that are made of a single element and can be cast, remoulded and mixed with other sources of gold is traceability. Fairtrade attempts to keep a strict record of documentation from mine to finished piece of jewellery.
“Fairtrade Gold miners receive a Fairtrade Premium of $2,000 per kilogram of fine gold, on top of the guaranteed Fairtrade Minimum Price. They can invest this money as they choose, whether that’s in their community, or to improve their business and work their way out of poverty, building better futures.”
Two examples of gold mining communities in Peru, who I am currently raising money for are: The SOTRAMI (Sociedad de Trabajadores Mineros- Mining Workers Society) and MACDESA (Minera Aurifera Cuatro de Enero - 4th of January Gold Miners)
- How does Fairtrade define independent, ethical, small-scale/artisanal
- How does Fairtrade set a fair price?
- What are the Fairtrade Standards?
- How many mines have Fairtrade gold?
- Where does gold come from? What countries is it found in? What is the ore like and how else is it found?
- What does small scale mining look like?
- What does large scale mining look like?
- How is gold extracted? What techniques or machines can be used?
- How are mercury and cyanide used in mining?
- Is small-scale mining the largest source of mercury pollution to air and water combined? What are other sources of mercury pollution? What other industries are available for work in gold mining areas?
- How much of the gold used in jewellery is newly mined/recycled? And how much of the newly mined gold in jewellery is from small scale/industria sources?
- Who are The SOTRAMI (Sociedad de Trabajadores Mineros- Mining Workers Society) and MACDESA (Minera Aurifera Cuatro de Enero - 4th of January Gold Miners)