This time last year, the Fairmined mark was launched by the Fairtrade Foundation, and Fairtrade gold took a step towards the mainstream. One year on, the idea is slowly gaining ground. And slowly is the only way it can gain ground, because ethical mining is not an easy thing to certify. To earn that Fairmined mark, the mine of origin has to be inspected, and wages and working conditions checked. The processing has to be done in small batches so the Fairtrade stuff doesn’t get mixed up with other gold, so the refiners have to be inspected and certified too. Then you have to register the manufacturers, to make sure that they’re actually using Fairtrade gold and not something else, so every step along the supply chain is important.
That’s a lot of organising, but it’s well worth it. Mining is a hard business. It is dangerous, dirty work, and considering the value of the end product, miners deserve a decent wage. Processing gold is also heavily polluting, using chemicals that are harmful to the environment and to human health. The Alliance for Responsible Mining demands environmental standards as well as social ones before a mine can be certified Fairtrade, along with health and safety standards and child labour policies. “If people knew just how much harm was happening to artisanal miners all over the world they would never buy normal gold,” says Alan Frampton from ethical jeweler Cred.
So far there are three mines producing Fairtrade gold, with more working towards it. It has a way to go before it’s in the jeweler in your local shopping centre, but it is available from a number of smaller or independent stockists. There’s a list here, and make sure you ask about Fairtrade gold next time you happen to be in a jeweler.