Fairtrade Wants To Put Its Stamp On Conflict-Free Gold

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Tiny specks of gold help provide an income for Dan Omondi Odida’s community in Kenya, where people make a living mining by hand the seams of gold around Lake Victoria.

Millions of men and women in Africa mine gold informally at best, illegally at worst, and many are indebted to middlemen who sell gold cheap — often at prices drastically below the global price.

Odida is general secretary of Micodepro, which promotes safe mining in Kenya. Through Fairtrade, his group has been trained in how to use mercury safely, business skills and health.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is the second biggest employer in Africa
after agriculture and a traditional activity for many communities, but one that’s often associated with informality and illegality.

It offers crucial livelihood to some of the most vulnerable people in the world who are often exploited. Many earn less than $1 a day, according to Fairtrade.

The U.K.-based Fairtrade Foundation wants Fairtrade gold to becomes the norm in the jewelry industry. In September and October, it’s holding five conferences in England, Scotland and Wales. It will also launch a Fairtrade gold business advice clinic to help boost awareness of Fairtrade gold jewelry at a local level.

Odida will speak at the conferences, visit independent jewelry stores around the U.K. and talk at campaign events.

What is Fairtrade gold?

You’re more likely to have heard of Fairtrade associated with coffee, tea and chocolate than with gold. More than 1.65 million farmers and workers in 74 developing countries benefit from the international Fairtrade system. They produce body oils and housewares, citrus and exercise balls. But gold, silver and platinum can also be Fairtrade certified.

The first mines to reach certification will be in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, Fairtrade said in a press release.

For Fairtrade gold, miners are guaranteed a fair minimum price and money to improve their businesses or the community for better education, clean water and healthcare. Fairtrade certification means small scale-miners meet standards for working conditions, health and safety, handling chemicals, women’s rights, child labor and environmental protection.

Fairtrade campaigners plan to reach out to jewelers and ask them to sell Fairtrade gold in the U.K.. They’ll promote it as a way for everyone to use the power of their purchase to make a difference in the lives of miners, Fairtrade said in a press release.

Ninety percent of the labor force involved in gold mining is made up of artisanal and small-scale miners who produce between 200-300 tonnes of gold each year globally, according to Fairtrade.org.

“Before this Fairtrade project started, we were just dying in silence,” said Josephine Agutu from the Tiira Small-scale Miners Association in Uganda. “We struggled to mine this precious metal.”

Exploitation by the jewelry industry made news headlines in 2014 when one of the largest gold refineries in Dubai was exposed for laundering conflict gold. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of suspect gold poured into the global markets including the U.K., according to Kevin McCullough, head of campaigns at the Fairtrade Foundation.

Dubai is a major global gold hub, with more than a fifth of the world’s trade in physical gold taking place there, BBC reported.

As well as being used for jewelry or gold bars, about 300 tonnes of gold a year is used for components in electronic devices, such as computer leads and smartphones.

Conflict-free gold is described as gold that has not caused, supported or benefited unlawful armed conflict during its production.

Following the Dubai exposure, both Apple and Intel said that all gold used in the circuitry of their phones, computers and other devices is now conflict free, according to The Guardian.