What is Fairtrade gold and what difference does it make to not only small-scale mining communities but the environment too? The truth is the origin of industry standard gold is uncertain - from old recycled gold to small scraps of the metal. It is all melted in a refinery and the story of who, how and where the gold has come from is lost.
Fairtrade can simply be defined as when companies from developed countries pay a fair price to those in less developed countries for their produce and labour. Whether this is through supporting the trade of coffee beans or bananas, developed countries are paying fairly so that workers can afford life’s essentials like food, education and healthcare - and for Fairtrade gold it isn’t dissimilar. Fairtrade gold miners receive a guaranteed fair minimum price and a premium to spend on improving their trade or projects, such as healthcare, education and community facilities. Fairtrade certification means each of these small scale-miners comply with the Fairtrade Standards. This not only helps the miners to improve their day-to-day working but their business practices too, allowing them to grow and generate more sales with better terms. These standards are very specific and include strict requirements for working conditions including health and safety, chemical handling, the rights of women, and protection of the environment.
Small-scale miners often work within hazardous conditions and their usual working day can be long and enduring. There are serious health risks that accompany improper handling of the harmful toxic mercury and cyanide, which are often used within the extraction process. Mines which aren’t monitored and haven’t achieved Fairtrade certification can struggle to generate adequate profits which are needed to invest into the company to achieve safer working conditions or more efficient technology.
To extract gold, the 300 miners who work within the Fairtrade Sotrami mine in Peru enter each of the mines to get to the deeper levels of the ground. The Sotrami mine in particular, is made from hard-rock which tunnels horizontally into the side of a mountain as opposed to a vertical hole in the ground. The rock is blasted with dynamite, which is then dug further either by hand or drills to extract the ore; it is then eventually sorted on the surface. To ensure the miners can breathe easily in the mine, air is pumped into the deeper levels of the mine so that they can work safely. Along with shareholder workers that use the Sotrami mine as a proficient source of income, there are an additional 30 self-employed miners, a women’s group and five engineers who also help to manage the mine and its processing plant. With over 500 workers involved in the Sotrami mine, it suggests there are many families that benefit from the work of the Fairtrade foundation and its Fairtrade certficiation.
Fairtrade is readily available in our day-to-day lives and the iconic symbol represents equality and opportunity to all. Choosing Fairtrade gold can help push the jewellery and wedding industry that one step further to a better future. It is not only beneficial to the miners but also to their families and communities and helps a new generation of workers understand the importance of fair living and an equal chance of life.