Buying Fairtrade gold is the best way to help small-scale miners to receive a fair deal for their hard work, protect the environment and make life better for themselves and their communities.
Globally, there are fifteen million small-scale gold miners and a further hundred million people who depend on them for survival. These miners account for 10-15% of global production but comprise around 90% of the workforce. Many of them are children, and they often work in unsafe conditions, facing a lifetime of backbreaking labour as they struggle to earn a living.
Miners extract gold using toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. These chemicals can cause congenital disabilities, brain and kidney damage, and contaminate water supplies, entering the food chain through poisoned fish. They can't afford to use safer processing methods. And in non-Fairtrade small-scale gold mines, accident rates are six or seven times higher than in large-scale mining.
And after all this, small-scale gold miners generally don't have access to the international markets, making it almost impossible for them to get paid a fair price for their gold. Instead, their work goes to line the pockets of middlemen gold dealers.
What is Fairtrade Gold?
To be labelled as 'Fairtrade', a small-scale mining community needs to meet specific standards on 'working conditions, child labour, women's rights, clean technology, health and safety, organisational management, democratic decision-making, transparency and traceability of their mining operations and responsible environmental management'. These are essentially the same standards that apply to any Fairtrade product.
In return for maintaining these standards, the miners are guaranteed a minimum price for their gold and a premium to be invested back into their community. The idea is to protect them from exploitation and to help them provide their families with a decent standard of living.
Where does Fairtrade gold come from?
Fairtrade works with nearly 50 artisanal and small-scale miner sites in Peru, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. However, at present, there are just three certified Fairtrade gold mines, all in Peru: MACDESA, LIMATA and CECOMSAP.
MACDESA is based in the community of Cuarto Horas in the Arequipa region of southern Peru and achieved Fairtrade certification in 2015. The company was founded in 2004 through the federation of 478 artisanal miners.
LIMATA is an artisanal mine in the Puno region of Peru. Its members are part of an indigenous community whose traditional work includes breeding alpacas and producing alpaca wool alongside gold mining. Limata started to work towards Fairtrade certification in 2017.
CECOMSAP is a collection of 10 small-scale mines based in the Apolobamba Mountains of southern Peru, and it became Fairtrade certified in 2019.
What are the benefits of Fairtrade gold?
MACDESA has benefited from more than half a million dollars worth of Fairtrade Premium which has been invested in a range of social and community projects, including:
- new accommodation and sanitary facilities for miners
- work clothes for employees
- technical equipment (pneumatic shovels, electric winches)
- provision of medical care
- investments in electrification of Cuarto Horas
- contributing to salaries of teachers in the Cuatro Horas and Chaparra districts
- supporting local families with improved accommodation
- providing financial support to local families in the event of illness.
"Investing in people is the best investment you can make. With Fairtrade it is possible to do much more and has meant better conditions not just for our families but also for the environment"Fredy Quecana , MACDESA
LIMATA has used the Fairtrade premium it has earned to improve miners' water use and minimise the environmental impact of mining activities, especially by reducing the use of mercury. Certification has helped improve the governance structures of Limata and given miners complete visibility of the international gold supply chain, including visiting partners in Europe.
CECOMSAP used its Fairtrade Premium in 2019 to upgrade a canteen for miners and workers so that they could receive regular hot meals and invested in a gold processing plant to enable miners to reduce their use of chemicals. In 2020, they used the Fairtrade Premium to help miners return to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic by purchasing advanced PPE and COVID-19 testing equipment and creating localised quarantine facilities and accommodation for miners travelling into the area from neighbouring communities.
"Selling our gold on Fairtrade terms helps us absorb shocks and to move forwards."Pedro Cori, CECOMSAP President
All images courtesy of Nigel Wright.