Why responsible gold mining?
Gold mining can cause great harm to people and the environment. Many small-scale miners and people living around large mines see little return on the value of gold. Solidaridad’s Gold Programme focuses on supporting the most vulnerable producers in the gold mining supply chain to build better lives. This includes communities of artisanal and small-scale miners and their families, and people working in and living around large, industrial mines. Small-scale miners are especially vulnerable. They work long hours in dangerous conditions for less than a living wage. Too often the wealth generated is minimal and goes to middlemen, who exploit poor miners and add no value to the chain. Miners may be aware of the risks, but do not have the resources to improve. Solidaridad sees that there is a solution to these problems and works together with mining communities, small-scale miners and jewellers to develop good gold: fair, safe gold mining. To promote greater responsibility in the gold mining sector and to engage consumers, Solidaridad launched the campaign ‘Op weg naar Goed Goud’ (‘On Our Way to Good Gold’).
How is gold mined at the moment?
Up to twenty percent of gold is mined by 15 million small-scale miners in over 50 countries. Most of them use mercury, which is highly toxic for people and the environment. They breathe in the mercury when processing the gold; do not wear protecting clothes (such as boots, gloves, masks and helmets) or receive a fair price for their gold; and have no rights because they often work illegally.
Eighty percent of gold is mined in the industrial mining sector. Often, foreign companies start a large mine and, in the worst cases, force people who live here to move and offer little or no compensation. Sometimes whole ecosystems are impacted. When the mine is exhausted, there is no remediation and the environment is polluted due to the use of cyanide or acid in the rock. Cyanide seeps into the groundwater and rivers, and can eventually pollute the sea. The unethical working practices of many industrial gold mining companies bring them into conflict with local communities.
On Our Way to Good Gold, what we do
We want jewellers, mining companies and other stakeholders to encourage progressive, leading practices that are certified by third parties. We are asking these people and consumers to join us in creating positive change together, both among small-scale miners and at industrial mines.
In March of 2010 the Alliance for Responsible Mining (
- Use and recycling of mercury safely, with zero release into the environment;
- Use of gloves, boots, helmets and masks to improve safety;
- Miners organise into registered cooperatives, which will lead to better efficiency and negotiation position, as well as legalise their work.
- In recognition of their extra efforts, these mines receive a price that is 10% higher than the market rate. They also receive an extra bonus of 15% if they work in accordance with stricter environmental requirements, such as mercury-free mining.
Jennifer Horning, programme officer for the Gold Programme, explains what the FT-FM certification can mean to people: “In Peru, certification training goes hand in hand with the legalisation process. This has a big effect because miners can now settle permanently and invest in their community. For example, they set up a nursery, which has improved the position of female mineworkers. Legalisation also provides opportunities for non-mineworkers: shopkeepers and suppliers of other services can also earn a living.”
In 2010 we started a pilot project to encourage industrial gold mining companies to adopt practices that will bring more benefits to local people and stop environmental damage. Similar to our work in the small-scale sector, we use a third-party certification as goal that we can work towards with the companies. While the Fairtrade and Fairmined standard only applies to small-scale mining, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) has developed a new standard that is aimed at industrial mines. In our pilot project, we are asking mines to meet the RJC because the standard scored the highest on a comparison report of standards used in mining commissioned by Solidaridad in 2009. Read the report here.
In Peru we are starting work on a project to provide safer conditions to workers at an underground mine and to prevent chemical spills at a nearby processing plant. We are also looking at ways that a company can measure its impacts in the local community and support small-scale miners living and working next to the mine. All of these things are addressed in the RJC standard. To encourage mining companies to take these steps, Solidaridad will partner with leading branded jewellers that want to do business with certified, responsible mining companies. Together, we will build a traceable supply chain from participating mines to European-based jewellers.
To raise the demand for responsible gold, Solidaridad works with business partners and jewellery brands in the Netherlands, England, Germany and Denmark. For example, well-known British jeweller Stephen Webster has made a commitment to buying Fairtrade and Fairmined gold and will use the gold to make wedding rings. In the Netherlands, we collaborate with the Federatie Goud en Zilver (Dutch Gold and Silver Federation) on raising awareness of the options for responsibly-sourced gold. The response to our work among jewellers is very promising. However, initial volumes of certified Fairtrade and Fairmined gold will be low: around 300 kilos per year. Large jewellers can use this much gold in one day. Therefore, the biggest need from a market perspective is increasing the supply of certified gold and connecting supply to demand. To reach this, increased support to producer organisations and capacity-building among small-scale miners is essential. Solidaridad is seeking new funding partners and exploring various models for raising producer support funds.
'On Our Way to Good Gold', the campaign and Bibi van der Velden
In 2010 Solidaridad launched the “On Our Way to Good Gold” (Op weg naar Goed Goud) campaign. The campaign informs and engages consumers on issues related to gold mining, with a focus on how we can work together to make it more responsible. Consumers can join the campaign by donating fifteen Euros, for which they receive a bracelet designed especially for the campaign by Dutch jewellery designer and sculptor Bibi van der Velden. Bibi experienced the gold mining process while visiting and working together with the Oro Verde miners in Colombia. “I never knew that gold mining had such an enormous social and environmental impact. The ever-increasing price of gold is causing a real ‘gold rush’ and the problems will only get worse, which is why I believe it is so important to create more awareness for this issue. During my trip to Colombia, I met a number of different miners including Americo and Luis. They run a mine producing the world’s first ever ‘green’ gold: Oro Verde gold. I gave each of them one of the bracelets that I designed for the ‘Good Gold’ campaign.”
Read the article about Bibi’s experience in Colombia published in NRC Weekblad.
Read the press release on Bibi’s experience in Colombia.
'On Our Way to Good Gold' is becoming a large movement. Almost 10.000 people are wearing the bracelet and there are many Facebook fans and Twitter followers. The bracelet gives donors tangible and visible proof of their support for the campaign and an active role in spreading the good gold message by encouraging others to support the campaign.
Read more about Bibi van der Velden: http://www.bibivandervelden.com/
Please join us On Our Way to Good Gold!
If you want to support the campaign (and are able to read our Dutch site), you can order the bracelet here. We also deliver outside the Netherlands.
If you do not read Dutch and/or want to order more than 10 bracelets and/or want to sell them in your own store: send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about our gold programme in the gold chapter of our annual year report 2010.
Read more about Solidaridad: http://www.solidaridadnetwork.org/
Watch here Stephen Webster's video about gold mining in Peru.