Whether it’s bling on a rapper or the luminous band of an engagement ring, gold is seen as a symbol of love, power, and wealth across much of the planet. In fact, we spent a whopping $137.5 billion on gold jewelry globally in 2010 alone, according to the World Gold Council. For the 100 million people worldwide who depend on gold for their livelihood, however, it’s both a blessing and a curse.
Artisanal and small-scale miners in South America are frequently poor and living in squalid conditions.
Artisanal and small-scale miners in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru are frequently poor, living in squalid conditions, and bereft of basic health and educational resources. The men, women, and even children who risk their lives to harvest the precious metal don’t set the price of gold, nor do the buyers. (There are six levels of middlemen between the buyer and the manufacturer.) Instead, day traders in London decide, twice a day, how much the miners get.
“It’s very difficult because for us to save because we have to pay for the children’s education, housing, food, healthcare,” says Victor Juan Hurtado Padella, deputy mayor of Senta Filomena, Peru. “The price of gold fluctuates too much and very often, after a 60-day shift, there’s not even enough money for food. Sometimes the gold isn’t pure and it’s not worth very much.”
Fairtrade International and the Alliance for Responsible Mining created the world’s first Fairtrade and Fairmined gold to rectify the situation. The standards cover issues such as working conditions, technology, health and safety, women miners and child labour, management of chemicals, and responsibility to the environment and the local community.
The new label is nothing short of groundbreaking. In addition to the fair-trade premium they’ll receive, miners get to set the minimum price for their gold. Already, 20 U.K.-based jewelers—including Stephen Webster, Cred Jewellery, and Pippa Small—have signed up to use Fairtrade and Fairmined gold.
In addition to the fair-trade premium they’ll receive, miners get to set the minimum price for their gold.
“The reality of gold production is at complete odds with what consumers imagine,” says Harriet Lamb, executive director of the Fairtrade Foundation, the British arm of Fairtrade International. “This is why Fairtrade and Fairmined gold has the potential to tackle unfair supply chain, improve working and environmental conditions and deliver tangible and sustainable economic benefits to impoverished communities. Now that is what I call a labor of love.’