THE BLOG

I Definitely Do - Why You Should Only Buy Fairtrade Gold

13/01/2015 16:58 GMT | Updated 15/03/2015 09:59 GMT

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It's that time of year: still heady from New Year parties, we all commit to wild new beginnings, reforming ourselves into slim, teetotal nuns dedicated to spreading love and peace. Which is why January can be so depressing: because before long the cold truth dawns that we are in fact much closer to being Bridget Jones than Mother Theresa.

But before you lose hope - there is one simple step to sainthood that you might consider - especially if you are one of the 250,000 couples who will tie the knot this year.

Rather sweetly, it seems most betrothals take place between Christmas and New Year. So brides (always blushing) and grooms (obviously besotted) are right now floating on fluffy clouds (why are there nine clouds anyway?), planning The Big Day and wondering about The Ring.

Luckily, an answer is at hand: why not buy a wedding ring made of Fairtrade gold - a chance to support smallscale miners in Peru and later this year miners in East Africa, who really do need a new beginning? On 14 January, the Fairtrade movement is launching a campaign - I Do - urging couples to choose a Fairtrade gold wedding ring from the growing number of jewellers involved offering everything from the designer artwork to the very affordable.

It is one of the great scandals of our time that in 2014 small-scale miners of such a precious metal should work in appalling, dangerous conditions for less than $1 a day. Because that is the sad truth hidden away deep underground.

Josephine, a miner in East Africa, told us how after she gave birth, she didn't work to look after her baby. Soon food ran out. She had some gold ore, and as her husband was no longer around, she asked her 15 year old son - who had grown up around mining - if he would process the rocks and sell the gold so they could eat. He crushed the rocks by hand, put them through the mill to turn them into fine powder, sluiced the powder, mixing the heavier particles containing gold with mercury using his bare hands, until he had a small ball of gold 'amalgam' - a gold and mercury mix - ready to sell. As he stood up, the ball of gold fell out of his hand and into the water reservoir next to the pit. In a panic he jumped in, forgetting he couldn't swim. He drowned in front of his little brother, who had to go home and tell his mother.

Some 15 million people depend on artisanal gold mining. But they are not protected at all as most mining laws are geared towards large-scale industry. That leaves smallscale miners facing severe risks in particular due to daily contact with toxic chemicals, such as mercury, cyanide and nitric acid. Exposure to mercury vapours and eating contaminated food leads to brain and nervous system damage, vomiting, gastroenteritis, kidney complaints and muscular tremors. I have never met people who physically looked as poor and ill as when I visited an artisanal mining area in Tanzania.

As outlined in the industry briefing published on 14th January by the Fairtrade Foundation these miners are at the sharp end of a long, complex supply chains over which they have little control. Tracing gold is notoriously difficult and the gold industry has been slow to open its doors to scrutiny. This has made it virtually impossible for consumers to know under what conditions the gold in their jewellery was mined.

That's why we launched Fairtrade gold - to start the long, slow process of highlighting the problem and creating change. So for the past four years we've been working with miners in Peru, who are selling Fairtrade gold - mostly to cutting edge British jewellery designers such as are Arabel Lebrusan, nominated for Designer of the Year in the British Jewellers Association Awards and award winning sculptural jewellery designer Ute Decker.

These mining groups have proved that with training and investment they can meet strict standards from working conditions to managing chemicals. Their organisation receives a Fairtrade Premium of $2,000 per kilo on top of the guaranteed minimum price, to improve their business or for community projects.

We've also been constantly learning and improving. This month we publish revised Fairtrade Standards, better aligned with international regulations around sourcing minerals from conflict-affected areas. And we've worked for three years in East Africa, thanks to a grant from Comic Relief, helping smallscale miners get organised, legally registered, and on the path to improving conditions.

Dan Odiba from Micodepro in Kenya, a group working towards Fairtrade certification, said: "Moving from old to new ways of doing mining has been transformational. Previously each and every miner worked on his own. Today we are privileged to do it collectively, where we mine as a group, we process our ore together as a group and we sell the same as a group."

Simon Odoyo from Lolgorian, agreed: "When we learnt about Fairtrade we developed a new method. We have a group of registered members, we have a valid registration certificate, and a valid prospecting right. We now know how to make and keep our daily records, make the environment clean inside the pit, use safety gears e.g. gloves, gumboots."

For such miners, it's a long, tough road to a brighter future. They need more companies and people to buy Fairtrade gold. So what better time than when making a lifelong commitment. In fact, I am beginning to think that it's almost worth getting married to have the chance to say: I do, I definitely do....

Image of Fairtrade rings courtesy of Arabel Lebrusan