Eco-conscious, plastic-free, fairtrade.  

These have all become buzzwords over the last couple of years, as we become increasingly aware of the impact we’re having on our planet.

Cost and quality were once the main or only things we thought about when considering a purchase. But our thought process has shifted.

A worker shows a small piece of gold, which was extracted at the area where the gold-rich soil is washed to separate the gold from the rest, at the mining cooperative Limata, part of CECOMSAP, Ananea, Puno, Peru. Photo: Eduardo Martino 21.02.2018

We‘re now often prepared to pay more for ethical goods.  But what about Fairtrade Gold? Why should we pay more for it?  What’s the problem with gold that not’s fairtrade?

I caught up with David Finlay from the Fairtrade Foundation to find out.

David, where in the world does gold come from?

Gold is recovered from more than 70 countries across the world. Most of it from industrial mines. These are very large, mechanised setups. The largest examples of such mines in countries like USA, Canada and China.

However, the majority of the labour that recovers gold takes place in the so-called Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) sector. This employs more than 16 million people globally. These mines can be dangerous and environmentally damaging. 

How are they dangerous?

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. They simply can’t afford to use safer processing methods. This can cause birth defects, brain and kidney damage, and can contaminate water supplies, entering the food chain through poisoned fish. Small-scale gold mining is the largest source of mercury pollution to air and water combined.

Small-scale miners are also exploited by traders because they’re poor and there are few (or no) regulations to protect them. They rarely receive a fair price for their product (even when the world gold price rises). Because of this, these miners struggle to generate enough profit or attract the finance needed to invest in their operations or in safer, more efficient mining practices and technology.

But with the right support, small-mines can provide valuable income for people in hard-to-reach communities.

Area where the remaining materials from the washing process, rich in gold, will go through a mercury-free spinning technique in order to extract the gold, at the mining cooperative Limata, part of CECOMSAP, Ananea, Puno, Peru. Photo: Eduardo Martino 21.02.2018

Fairtrade Gold works exclusively with ASM setups, helping to make mines safer, more environmentally friendly and to enable hard-to-reach communities to benefit from the sale of gold.

Why should people buy jewellery made from Fairtrade gold?

Fairtrade assures people their gold came from a responsible mine.  One where the environment’s being protected, miners are working in safe conditions and receiving a fair price. This means they can be safe, support themselves and can re-invest back into their communities.

But how do we really know that Fairtrade gold is in fact, well, fair?

All Fairtrade gold is fully traceable, right back to individual mine sites. This means that by buying jewellery that contains Fairtrade gold, consumers are directly creating positive change and supporting better outcomes for the environment and mining communities.

Gold miners at the Limata cooperative, part of CECOMSAP, Ananea, Puno, Peru. Photo: Eduardo Martino 21.02.2018

Expert local Fairtrade staff support mine sites to align with the Fairtrade standard for gold, after which they can sell their gold into businesses interested in using Fairtrade gold in their jewellery. 

Gold-mining cooperative San Francisco, part of Cecomsap, Ananea, Puno, Peru. Photo: Eduardo Martino 23.02.2018

What do the miners get out of this?

This generates a load of benefits for miners, their families and communities, including:

  • Safer working conditions: There are regulations around setting up mines to make sure they’re working safely and that workers have the right safety gear.
  • Protections for the environment: Water sources and forests are protected, and harmful chemicals are used less.
  • Development for the wider community: Fairtrade Gold attracts a premium price which means miners receive a fair income and have an additional sum – the Fairtrade premium – to reinvest in to community projects. The miners themselves decide where this money is spent. Which is on things like:
    • Building health clinics.
    • Subsidising school fees
    • Investing in local businesses.
    • Providing young people and women with stronger livelihoods away from mining.
Area where the remaining materials from the washing process, rich in gold, will go through a mercury-free spinning technique in order to extract the gold, at the mining cooperative Limata, part of CECOMSAP, Ananea, Puno, Peru. Photo: Eduardo Martino 21.02.2018

So its not only about a fair price for gold, it’s also about making sure they get safe working conditions?

Yes – Fairtrade gold is sourced from mines which have met the ‘Fairtrade Standard for Gold’. This includes everything from the basic setup of the mine (which processes happen in which areas), to introducing technology to make sure particular areas are safe and well managed. It also includes workers themselves being given access to PPE (personal protective equipment) at all times.

How easy is it to find jewellery made from fairtrade gold?

We’re already working with 300 jewellers of all sizes, across the UK. You can see some of our partners here. Or use our tracker tool here.

As gold is fully traceable through the supply chain – we’re also working with a wide range of refiners and UK manufacturers. This includes established companies like Cooksons, Betts Metals and Hockley Mint.

Is fairtrade gold becoming more popular?

Yes! We’re seeing a huge increase in demand for Fairtrade gold, especially from millennial and Generation-Z consumers. This people increasingly want to understand the “why” behind a business’ mission. They also expect companies to know where they’re sourcing from and the impact (positive or negative) they have on the world.

Fairtrade gold in this context can be a solution and partner to jewellery businesses. 

Away from jewellery, we support Fairtrade gold for use in other products. This includes bullion bars for banks and technology products.

What can people do to support fairtrade gold?

  • Buy Fairtrade Gold: Look out for Fairtrade gold the next timing you’re buying jewellery.
  • Share: Tell your local jewellers about Fairtrade gold in their finished pieces. We want to support all jewellers in the UK to have access to Fairtrade gold. Consumers can link businesses directly into our website to learn more about what Fairtrade gold is the difference it makes here.

What about jewellers who want to work with Fairtrade gold?

For jewellers themselves interested in working with Fairtrade Gold, we have more information here. There’s also an online training tool here.

So, Fairtrade or not, it’s up to you as the consumer. What will you choose?

Would you now go for Fairtrade?  Are you happy with buying gold items that have been sourced from larger mines? Or maybe you like to go for recycled gold instead?

Jewellers, do you think your customers would be happy to pay more for Fairtrade?  Or does it price you out of the market? Do you already work with Fairtrade gold?