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Mined Fair for the Fair-minded

The Alliance for Responsible Mining is working to bring ethical gold to the retail jewelry market.

By Kenneth Porter, Evan O'Neil | Alliance for Responsible Mining | February 14, 2013

CREDIT: Stuart Richards (CC).

EVAN O'NEIL: Most people have heard of fair trade by now but fair mining is a new concept. What is the innovative aspect that distinguishes it?

KENNETH PORTER: When the Alliance for Responsible Mining developed its first standard there was no international certification scheme for artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). Fair trade generally only dealt with agricultural products, and consumers had close to no way of knowing where their gold came from. When buying Fairtrade and Fairmined gold you can trace your gold back to the mine and know that the miners have good working conditions. They take care of the environment, and you support social and economic development in their communities.

Artisanal and small-scale mining supports the livelihoods of between 100–150 million people around the world (60–100 million for gold) and has a huge potential for sustainable development of impoverished communities. Fair standards for ASM can make this potential a reality.

EVAN O'NEIL: What is Standard Zero and how did it come about?

KENNETH PORTER: Standard Zero was the first global certification scheme for responsible artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Its content was inspired by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) standards for small agricultural producers, but adapted to the situation of artisanal and small-scale gold miners. It follows the characteristic fair trade grouping of social, economic, labor, and environmental development standards, with specific requirements for fair traders and jewelers.

If you are interested in reading the standard or in knowing more about the development process and the field testing you can find a lot of information on our webpage. The Fairtrade and Fairmined standard is based on Standard Zero.

© Nigel Wright / Alliance for Responsible Mining

EVAN O'NEIL: How does ARM track Fairmined gold through a complex global supply chain?

KENNETH PORTER: What distinguishes and makes the Fairmined gold supply chain so special is that we can guarantee transparency and traceability from the mine to the market. Everyone who takes possession of the gold along the supply chain has to be licensed and is certified under the Fairtrade and Fairmined Trade Standard. Everyone along the supply chain is submitted to strict reporting and auditing standards. The Fairmined gold must be properly indicated and traceable. This is truly a revolutionary feature in the gold supply chain that allows a final consumer to know who mined the gold they are purchasing and under what conditions.

EVAN O'NEIL: Consumers often prioritize price over ethics. How are you breaking through this barrier?

KENNETH PORTER: There is a growing global movement of concerned conscious consumers who actively look for and demand products that are ethically sourced and manufactured. These consumers are informed on the underlying issues of international trade and are willing to pay for the added value of being able to purchase a product that has certain ethical guarantees. They are willing to pay to know that the gold is being mined in a responsible manner that respects both the miner and the environment.

To break through this barrier requires informed consumers. For Fairmined gold it is important that consumers are aware about the issues in the mining industry and in particular about the artisanal small-scale mining. Global incidence and awareness about ASM and the extractive industries is growing. There have been many international organizations that are now taking notice and demanding certain ethical standards in the gold industry, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, the OECD Due Diligence Guide on Gold, the Global Mercury Report, No Dirty Gold campaign, LBMA Responsible Gold Guidance, and the Responsible Jewellery Council, among others.

This growing awareness on issues in the gold industry is providing the information necessary for consumers to demand an alternative and be willing to pay a premium for ethically sourced gold.

EVAN O'NEIL: Have small-scale miners been quick to embrace your approach? What has been the effect in the communities that ARM supports?

KENNETH PORTER: Miners have shown incredible commitment. Complying with the Fairtrade and Fairmined standard requires a lot from the miner organizations, and with the help of local and international partners we have succeeded in supporting miners in many countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. When starting the work to comply with the standards the communities begin to feel the benefits as their conditions improve. Certified miners have been able to make important investments in their community thanks to the Fairtrade and Fairmined premium they receive apart from the fair price.

© Eduardo Martino / Alliance for Responsible Mining

EVAN O'NEIL: Does geopolitics come into play? Where along the supply chain have you received the most resistance?

KENNETH PORTER: Geopolitics are certainly an issue, as mentioned earlier there are several international organizations that are beginning to take stances on artisanal mining.

National legislation and policies toward ASM can have a large impact on the industry and on the mining communities. There are many governments that do not recognize artisanal mining as a legitimate and legal economic activity even though significant numbers of their populations depend on this activity as their sole source of income.

Many countries have been swayed by the lure of big industry to create policy that favors industrial mining, often at the direct expense of the artisanal miners. In a country where there could be several million artisanal miners that have no alternative economic activities, governments are declaring ASM illegal and giving concessions to major mining firms, which eliminate millions of livelihoods, only to replace them with a relatively small number of short- to medium-term jobs, and which export the majority of the wealth generated.

I wouldn't identify any particular point in the supply chain where there has been resistance. All along the supply chain there have been interested actors who have stepped in to get involved in the Fairmined project, from refiners to bullion traders, to small and large jewelers. We are constantly receiving interest from new stakeholders interested in joining the Fairmined movement.

EVAN O'NEIL: Finally, if consumers are interested in purchasing Fairmined jewelry, where should they go?

KENNETH PORTER: There are retail jewelers all over the globe who work with and carry Fairmined gold. You should contact your national Fairtrade initiative for a list of licensed traders or contact us directly. If your local jeweler does not yet carry Fairmined gold, inform them about it and ask them to begin offering it is an option for their customers. If you are a jeweler or gold trader, please contact us directly if you are interested in working with and supporting responsible artisanal gold mining.

© Ronald de Hommel / Alliance for Responsible Mining


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