Fairtrade Gold

Making A Difference For Small Scale Miners


Artisanal and small-scale miners make up ninety per cent of the global workforce involved in the mining of gold, and millions of people worldwide rely on small-scale gold mining to survive. Very few of these miners receive a fair price for the gold that they produce. They typically work in dangerous conditions, with little or no health and safety measures in place, and child labour is rife. 

Gold certified to Fairtrade standards provides small-scale miners and their communities with the opportunity for better living and working conditions. For this reason, Ingle & Rhode is delighted to have been be amongst the first jewellers in the world licensed to offer jewellery made with certified Fairtrade gold.

Aurelsa Gold Miners in Peru ©Nigel WrightThere are currently four Fairtrade-certified mining organisations in the world: MACDESA, AURELSA and SOTRAMI in Peru, and SAMA in Uganda.

SOTRAMI in the Atacama Desert, central Peru, received Fairtrade certification in 2011. 300 miners work there in a hard-rock mine which tunnels into the side of a mountain and is twelve levels deep. The mine supports about 500 families, and the miners and their families live in nearby Santa Filomena.

Today there are 88 shareholder workers in two groups and an additional 30 self-employed miners working in the mine, plus five engineers who manage the mine and processing plant, and a women’s group.

Although no women work inside the mine, they work on the surface sorting ore for processing. 180 women work in shifts and at the end of each month share the income made between them. There are two groups who work 2pm-6pm daily around childcare demands and domestic responsibilities. These women have also established a crèche so that childcare can be shared and women can work without taking their children to the mine site.

Aurelsa Gold Miner (courtesy of Nigel Wright)SOTRAMI has recently been given an award recognising their way of working as ‘best practice’ in the ASM sector. Through the Fairtrade Premium the miners have invested in new equipment to increase their productivity, meaning that they now have more gold to sell.

AURELSA, located in the Ayacucho region of Peru, became Fairtrade certified in May 2012. Three groups of affiliated workers and various groups of independent miners operate seven underground hard rock mines.

There are about 600 families in the local municipality of Relave. Other mining companies and processing plants, Ballón, Milagros, and Cominsa, provide services for artisanal mining so that not all development activity depends on AURELSA. However, AURELSA provides electricity to the village at a subsidised rate from 6pm to 10pm, and it is often asked to support community initiatives.

The mayor of Relave, who also is AURELSA’s general manager, has been actively involved with other miners in lobbying for and advocating the recognition of rights of artisanal miners and the creation of artisanal mining laws in Peru.

MACDESA, located in the Arequipa region in southern Peru, received Fairtrade certification in 2015. The company, which operates a hard rock mine and processes about 400 tonnes of ore per month, was founded in 2004 through the federation of 478 artisanal miners. Today Macdesa has 388 shareholders, divided into four groups of independent producers. In addition, Macdesa has partnered with other groups of miners, and collaborates with a group of female miners. In all, more than 550 families live off of the Macdesa mine.

The miners at MACDESA work underground in shifts of twenty days on and ten days off. For those miners who do not live locally, these ten day breaks give them time to travel to see family in different parts of Peru.

Santa Filomena Peru ©Nigel WrightOther miners have made their home near the mine site in the village of Cuatro Horas, where rising incomes from Fairtrade have played a major role in local development, resulting in the completion of various major infrastructure and social projects, such as the development of an electrical grid and a water supply network, and the establishment of medical services and schools.

In Africa, Fairtrade has been working with nine pilot groups in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to achieve Fairtrade certification, in a three-year programme funded by Comic Relief. In October 2016, SAMA in Uganda became the first artisanal small scale mining co-operative in Africa to become Fairtrade certified. The co-operative produces just 5 kg gold per year, but has the potential to significantly benefit many people in the local community, and Fairtrade certification brings much needed hope to the impoverished communities who risk their lives to mine the rich gold seam that runs around Lake Victoria.

Photographs courtesy of Nigel Wright.


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