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Responsibly Sourced Artisanal Gold: A Tour of Peruvian and Colombian Mining Communities.

What is ASM or Artisanal and small-scale mining?

Artisanal and small-scale mining can best be described as ‘low intensity’ mining, encompassing all types of mining from alluvial deposits to hard rock extraction1. Estimates vary, but in general it is accepted that ASM’s provide about 20% of the gold mined each year but employ about 80% of the mining population. Operations tend to be informal, very low technology based and labor intensive. In many cases, miners use hand tools such as hammers and chisels, with the more advanced operations using nothing more complex than small scale excavation equipment such as back-hoes and dump trucks. ASM communities also tend to be very marginalized and have little access to resources, particularly state or industry support. In many cases the need to mine is poverty driven and mining operations are often excluded from the normal banking sector, many having no bank accounts or access to credit. A sad consequence of this is that many are subject to criminal activity in many forms.

The aim of both the Fairmined and Fairtrade organizations is to improve the above situation. By introducing standards which ensure that all gold and silver produced at artisanal and small-scale mining operations certified by the respective organization are mined in a responsible manner, they improve the lives and working conditions of miners and mining communities. Once the mine becomes certified, they are not only guaranteed a fair price for the metals they sell, but also a premium to be paid directly to the mine by the purchaser for every gram of gold and silver purchased.

It must be noted that there is not enough ASM gold mined to fulfill all of the requirements for gold, whether for jewelry, electronics or medical uses. The point of responsible sourcing is not to eradicate industrial scale mining, it is to improve the lives and working conditions of miners and mining communities in the developing world. Many customers, particularly those described as Generation X and Millennials, have different, less traditional buying habits. They want a story, something they can relate to, they want their purchases to make a difference socially and environmentally. This makes responsible sourcing of gold and silver very relevant in today’s jewelry market.

Figure 1. Miners at the Sotrami mine, Peru.

Figure 1 shows a husband and wife who work at the Sotrami mine at Santa Filomena in Peru. This is a small scale mine employing 700 workers of which 160 are miners working at the face. Some mines are privately owned, and some, like Sotrami, operate as cooperatives while others are lone operators or single-family operations.

Mercury use.

Both Fairmined and Fairtrade are concerned with mining communities in the developing world, and with this comes many problems with unregulated artisanal and small-scale mining. One of the biggest problems is the use of mercury. Extracting gold using mercury is a relatively inexpensive, simple and quick process. Gold bearing ore is crushed into a sand like consistency and mercury is mixed in, usually with your hands and in many cases your feet as well. The resulting amalgam is then separated from the waste products and the mercury burnt off to leave gold typically of around 75% to 80% pure.

Figure 2. Using mercury to extract gold from ore 2.

Figure 3. Mercury-gold amalgam 2.

Figure 4. Burning off mercury 3.

Unfortunately, mercury is also highly toxic, and not just the liquid mercury. The fumes from burning off mercury are also highly toxic. Heavy and prolonged exposure causes irreversible damage to the human body. Mercury poisoning damages the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and immune system. It results in birth defects with many children born to mothers who have mercury poisoning being educationally subnormal with decreased intelligence. Mercury contamination also results in a toxicized ecosystem ‘ water, plant life, fish and animals are all affected. Because of bioaccumulation, mercury works its way up the food chain and can bio-magnify and increase concentration in certain plant and animal species4. This is a major reason to use certified ASM gold and silver ‘ to guarantee that mercury has not been used in the gold extraction process.

Responsibilities for Mine Certification.

For a mine to become Fairmined or Fairtrade certified, certain criteria must be fulfilled (1,5,6):

Mines are required to participate in the social development of their communities.

Mines must eliminate child labor from their organization. No one under the age of 15 can be contracted to work in the mining organization and under 18’s must work in non-hazardous conditions.

There must be health and safety training for all employees and minimum health and safety standards must be met. Mandatory use of personal protective gear must be observed and enforced at all times, and working conditions continuously improved.

The mines must recognize and respect the rights of employees to form or join trade unions and collectively negotiate their working conditions – freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The responsible use of chemicals is mandatory. If mercury is used in the extraction process it must be controlled and plans/timelines agreed to eliminate its use altogether. If cyanide processing is used it must be handled using responsible practices. Chemicals have to be reduced to a minimum and wherever possible eliminated over an agreed time period.

Responsible use of any premiums paid for under the Fairmined and Fairtrade certification schemes.

Why do Fairmined and Fairtrade metals cost so much?

The previous section describes the basic framework that mining organizations have to agree to and implement to comply to the standards and qualify for the premiums. From the jeweler’s point of view, a few of the questions most ask when looking to purchase responsibly sourced artisanal gold and silver are why does it cost so much, where does this additional money go to and what is it used for? These are all very fair questions because certified ASM gold and silver is expensive and the jeweler pays considerably above market rate for the materials they purchase.

Normally, the gold and silver purchased by jewelry material suppliers is already in-country, they just call up their bullion supplier or refiner and buy it. However, with Fairmined and Fairtrade metals, unless your business is in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Mongolia or a few African countries, it isn’t in-country and it has to be exported from the mine and then imported into your country of business.

Both Fairmined and Fairtrade use the same basic system. A fixed percentage of the gold or silver market price is agreed between the mine and the purchasing company, guaranteeing a fair price to the mine for their product. The Fairmined and Fairtrade purchasing procedures regulate this to prevent mines being taken advantage of. As well as this agreed percentage of the gold or silver market price, the purchaser also pays a price per gram of fine metal purchased, and this is paid directly to the mine. All fees are paid prior to the metals being shipped from the mine. Additionally, there are transport, insurance and logistics costs to get the metals from the mine to an airport, through customs export, onto a plane to your destination country, through customs import then from arrival airport to your plant.

This can be somewhat complex, however by doing this, the miners get a fair market value for the metals sold, and the payment of the premium directly to the mine which is then spent on both mine and community improvements. This premium typically, but not exclusively, gets banked and when it reaches a certain amount, or after a certain time, the managers who run the mine or owners who run the cooperative decide what they should spend it on. They’re typically responsible in their choices, which are monitored, and listen to the community before deciding what to do but it is always spent for the good of the mine and community.

Examples of how the premiums are spent range from safety equipment to medical needs, bringing mains electricity or running water to the community, or building schools and places of worship. In the case of one of the mines visited by the author, they decided the money would be best spent on mains electricity, so they wired up the town. The next year they were looking into supplying mains water ‘all water has to be delivered by truck to the mine daily. But, after consultation, they decided to purchase a cell phone tower. Many of the mine workers do not permanently live on site but work there for three week shifts, so communication with home and family is important to them, hence the cell phone tower.

Another item they purchased was a football pitch. They built a plateau out of waste rock from the mining operation and then had the pitch built on it ‘ they actually have two at this mine, one at about 1,900 meters and another at 2,750 meters. For the mine workers and community in general, this was an extremely good spend. The workers now have a sporting activity they can do for both fitness and entertainment, and they have their own league that involves other mines, improving inter-community relations.

Figure 5. The cell phone tower at the Sotrami mine, Peru.

Figure 6. A football pitch at the Sotrami mine, Peru.

These are just two examples of what Fairmined and Fairtrade money has contributed to for a mining community. This money does good, helping to improve the work, the social environment and the community. This is the case with all Fairmined and Fairtrade mines.

In both Peru and Colombia there are two different types of ASM mining activity, these being regulated and unregulated mining activity.

Regulated Mining.

Mining accounts for only a small percentage of the GDP in Colombia however for Peru, about 15% of the GDP is from ‘on the books’ mining. There are no reliable figures regarding how much ‘off the books’ or ‘unregulated’ mining there is. The Government wants all mining activities to be legal and regulated for a number of reasons. Primarily it will increase the tax base and help grow the economy. This tax base is used for many infrastructure projects and services such as building roads and construction, medical care and education to name a few. They also want to implement health and safety regulations to safeguard the miners, and eradicate crime and exploitation. To encourage and incentivize miners to become legal and regulated, the government offers a 5% tax refund to a regulated mine for every kilo of gold exported.

Unregulated mining.

Unregulated mines are exactly as described and considered illegal. There are no rules and miners often work for little money under poor working conditions. Unregulated miners can die due to their working conditions, from poor health and safety, and the use of mercury and other chemicals. They are also taken advantage of in many ways by criminals who exploit them, and unfortunately for many there is no way out of this cycle.

Unregulated mines are typically remote and difficult to reach. Those observed by the author in Peru were often high up in mountainous areas with no roads or tracks leading to them, and tens of kilometers away from the nearest paved roads. Everything needed for the mining operation has to be carried up the mountainside either by donkey or by hand. Supplies such as food and water, tools and equipment, any wood for shoring up tunnels to make them safe, mercury to process the ore, all of these need to be transported to the remote areas where these mines exist. The mortality rate of the miners is relatively high. Tunnels are unsupported ‘ they have to get wood to the general area first, then up the mountain, so often they don’t bother and the inevitable happens and tunnels can cave in. Problems with mercury poisoning are also high. In recent years at the request of the Peruvian government, the doctor at Sotrami’s medical center tested blood samples from unregulated miners and found all to be over the safe legal limit for mercury. As a result of this the owners of the unregulated mines did not allow further tests to be carried out for fear of being closed down. The unregulated miners need the work and so, as previously stated, get caught in the cycle.

Macdesa & Sotrami Mines, Peru.

The Macdesa and Sotrami mines lie within the Chaparra and Lucanas provinces respectively in Peru, about 600km south of Lima and roughly in between Nazca and Arequipa. Both of these provinces are in the Atacama Desert, which is the driest places on Earth. This is predominantly a mountainous and dusty region, with the dust being the fineness of cement. It is quite a challenging environment in which to mine and to live.’

The Macdesa mine started life as a hole in the ground like all the other mines in the region. Many of these mines were left idle after Peruvian independence from Spain in 1821. When people started resuming mining, a relatively recent thing, the area was very much the ‘wild west’ with rival mining groups fighting each other. Miners were barely making a living, safety was non-existent and life was very hard. As a consequence of this, at Macdesa, about 350 miners agreed that the only way to improve was to work together and form a community.

Macdesa is about 1,500 meters in altitude and at the beginning, the miners used hand tools and wheelbarrows to move ore from the mine. They would load approximately 60kg of ore from the mine into sacks and carry these to their donkeys. Once these animals were loaded up, they were walked 50 kilometers down the mountain to the processing plant near the coast and main highway. However, the miners were taken advantage of and were only given about 80% of the market value. To compound this, the scales were rigged, the assays were rigged, and the ore was processed incorrectly. As a result, the miners rarely saw any more than 50% of the value of the gold they mined.

So, in order to improve their yields and payouts, the miners started processing ore themselves by hand with mercury, but didn’t really know what they were doing. They determined that they needed to invest in their own technology and hire people who did know what they were doing. The story was very similar at Sotrami. The original 350 ‘Socio’s’ ‘ founders – took out just enough wages to live by. The remainder of the money they received for their gold was reinvested to solve their problems and improve their processes and yields. Other things they did were:

Purchased proper mining drills.

Made rock and dirt roads to get trucks up and down from the processing plant to the mine.

Improved housing for mine workers and their families.

Invested in safety equipment and implemented a training program for all workers.

Improved conditions in the mine. Air was pumped into the mining shafts to help prevent pulmonary problems. The walls & ceilings were shored up to make the tunnels safe. Rail tracks were installed in each tunnel to enable them to easily move the ore out of the mine.

They began to assay on-site. This way, they knew exactly what purity their dore bars were and so what to expect as a return.

They developed processes to become mercury-free.

They purchased a boring machine, enabling them to test drill and see where the vein goes, greatly reducing the amount of mining needed and increasing their yield of gold recovered to ore mined.

The story for the Sotrami mine is similar. The founders formed the mine thirty one years ago and the village of Santa Filomena has grown around the mine at about 2,750 meters elevation. The population of Santa Filomena is ≈ 2,000, of which 700 work directly for the mine, with the remaining population working support jobs. Similar to Macdesa, all the profits are invested back into the mine and the community. Workers work 20 days on, 10 days off which are unpaid, and usually eleven hour shifts. Many miners live away from the mine and travel home for their 10 days off to see family, but some have their families with them, especially if both parents work at the mine.

Very often, local and national governments see mining as a kickstart industry. Thanks to the Mayor in the local town of Challa, who also involved the central government, 40km of asphalt road has been laid from the main Pacific Coast Highway, cutting the drive time to the mine in half. People in the lower areas have taken advantage of the road and started crop farming, because now they can grow their produce and easily transport it to market without damaging it en route. In many cases where mining is a success story, its presence indirectly gives opportunities to others. The road is also important for other reasons, one being that for Sotrami there is no running water onsite as such. All the water they need is transported up the mountain three times a day using three trucks.

Typically, nothing goes to waste. Rather than just discarding the rock, they use it for improvements. Waste rock is used to create flat areas which are then built on to expand the mine buildings and the town.

Figure 7. Waste rock used to create level building space at Sotrami, Peru.

Macdesa has three tunnels working their mine, whereas Sotrami only has one and all miners have to enter and exit the mine through this entrance and down this shaft. The mine is 630 meters deep, has 13 levels, and it takes the miners 35 minutes to climb down and 45 minutes to climb back up after completing their shift.

Figure 8. The mine entrance at Sotrami, Peru.

Figure 9. The entrance shaft at Sotrami, Peru.

Figure 10. One of the mine tunnels at Sotrami, Peru.

Inside the mine, timbers are used to shore up the roof but generally there’s only lighting at the workface and for safety at the ore extraction rails. Although these timbers all have to be brought up from the coast because there are no trees growing in the vicinity of the mines, the good thing is that the climate is so dry that there are no bugs to eat away at the wood and rot is generally not an issue.

Safety equipment must be worn by all when down the mines, particularly hard hats and especially respirators because the one thing that is a constant is the dust. The particles can cause serious lung problems if miners are unprotected. This is very different from the mines in Colombia, which are in an entirely different environment.

Ore Processing: Hard Rock.

As far as ore processing is concerned both mines use similar processes. They both originally used mercury but understood the toxicity of this to themselves and the environment and so switched to a much more environmentally friendly cyanide process.

Figure 11. Large rotation barrel.

The ore is first crushed and then processed to the consistency of sand in a very large rotation barrel. Water is introduced to help the grinding process and also to form a slurry, which exits the barrel through a filter, making sure that the particles are small enough for downstream processing. Once filtered, the slurry is pumped into cyanide treatment tanks. The gold present becomes suspended in the cyanide solution and is then pumped into reaction tanks containing activated carbon particles. The carbon particles are about the size of a grain of rice and they attract the gold, taking it out of suspension. Typically, three successive tanks are used to maximize the gold yield; the process overall yields 96% of the gold entering the process as crushed ore.

At this point, the used cyanide solution is disposed of into cyanide waste pools. This may sound drastic, but the process is environmentally safe and not to be confused with the extremely environmentally damaging process of cyanide leaching, where the chemical is exposed to the ore in an untreated way and comes into direct contact with the ecosystem with few or no constraints or containment. These cyanide waste pools have very durable membranes and the waste is chemically treated so that when it is exposed to ultra violet light it eventually converts to carbonates, making the waste pools non-toxic. Once full, these pools are filled in then either planted or built on.

Figure 12. The slurry filter.

Figure 13. Activated carbon tanks.

Figure 14. A waste cyanide pool. The photograph is taken from a previous pool that has been filled, covered and planted.

Figure 15. Steel mesh electrodes in the plating tank.

The next part of the process is to filter out the gold laden carbon particles from the tanks, transfer these to an electrolytic cell and then plate the gold onto steel mesh. Once this part of the process is complete, the final part is to load the gold laden mesh into an oven and the gold is melted off and cast into dore bars. The gold purity is now of the order of 80% and the product can be further processed or sold into the market as dore.

Spending the premiums.

As discussed earlier, premiums have been spent on various projects: mains electricity, running water, cell phone towers and football pitches. If the miners are asked why they do what they do and why they are happy to get certified by Fairmined and Fairtrade, there are numerous reasons. These include environmental responsibility, better working conditions, prosperity, but they all agree that a major reason is for their children. These are relatively young enterprises and the mine workers want their children to have better lives and opportunities than they had. These miners came from virtually nothing, created businesses and founded communities, and are flourishing.

A great example of this is their schools. At Macdesa, they have spent premium money on their kindergarten and elementary school, which are permanent block buildings, fenced in, clean, safe, and filled with computers. The children are taught how to use both the computers and the internet at a very early age, and after school, the adults are also taught how to use computers, so they are put to very good use.

Figure 16. The elementary school at Macdesa.

Figure 17. Computers purchased with Fairmined and Fairtrade premiums.

The miners at Sotrami have used their premiums in similar ways. Sotrami has an excellent medical centre and this is very important not only for the mine, but also for the entire surrounding community. The mine funds this with their premiums, but they let anyone who needs it use it, regardless of whether they are employed by Sotrami or not. They see it as their community duty to do so. It’s well equipped and they have a doctor assigned to them permanently. The next item on their wish list is an X-ray machine. Imagine having to travel 70km down a mountain on unpaved roads for X-rays on a broken bone.

The Peruvian mines discussed are success stories, and the same can be said for the Colombian mines.

Iquira, Coodmilla and Gualconda mines, Colombia.

The gold mines in Colombia discussed here are much smaller in scale than the Peruvian mines. The Iquira mine is in the Huila district, and the Coodmilla and Gualconda mines are in the Narino district, both areas being very lush and at altitude. Similar to the Peruvian mines, the mines in Narino are remote and about a four-hour drive on unpaved roads from the nearest major highway.

Many of the same problems regarding regulated and unregulated mining in Colombia exist as noted for Peru, and until recently many areas of Colombia were dangerous and off limits to outsiders. There is still a great deal of illegal mining that the Colombian government wants to regulate, but implementation has been a problem. Just telling miners they can’t mine anymore without providing any alternatives does not work. As a consequence, most communities don’t have an alternative and so go back to illegal mining just to survive. Colombia now has a formal ban on mercury but this is difficult to enforce for various reasons. The Colombian government has also recently changed the banking laws as an anti-corruption and anti-terrorism countermeasure. A consequence of this is that several mining organizations have lost their ability to export their gold, however Fairmined is working with the mines and the government to change this.

The Iquira Cooperative is southwest of Bogota in the Huila region of Colombia. This region is famous for coffee and a number of the miners at Iquira are also coffee farmers. The mines were on their land, they knew the gold was there, but they did not begin mining until 2004 when they organized as a cooperative of 11 shareholders. By 2010 there were 35 cooperative shareholder members of which 8 are women and the co-op has 11 legally registered mines. Initially they would sell their gold informally to the local market, however becoming Fairmined certified has given them the ability to export.

Figure 18. Narino, Colombia 7.

Each mine is a separate business, but they all work as a cooperative for banking, selling and exporting purposes, resulting in better deals and reduced costs. These are relatively small mines and typically go about 500 meters into the mountain on one, two or three levels. About 20% of employment in Iquira is by the cooperative and all of the workers come from the region.

Figure 19. A mine entrance at Iquira, Colombia.

The Colombian mines are also very different from those in Peru as far as environmental conditions are concerned. While the Peruvian mines are very dry and dusty due to the arid region, the Colombian mines are very damp. Water runs down through porous rock and hits a gold-containing quartz layer, which is impervious, and so runs down the layer into the mine. The miners say they look for this because where there’s water, there’s gold.

The mines all have safety systems in place as part of their certification and qualification for the premiums. Each mine has a gas detection and alarm system to protect the workers, along with safe rooms in case of gas leaks or collapses. All mines and processing plants have first aid kits and all workers have the required personal protective equipment. A number of mines in the cooperative employ women to handle the explosives and do the blasting, as well as work at the mine face.

Figure 20. A safe room in the mine at XXXX

Figure 21. Miners in Colombia 1.

Figure 22. Sacks of ore waiting to be transported to the processing facility.

Figure 23. Sacks of ore in the crusher, Iquira, Colombia.

Once the ore is mined and bagged it is transported to the processing plant. Each bag contains approximately 50kg of ore which is processed in a similar manner to that used at the Peruvian mines, except on a smaller scale. Due to the nature of the deposits, after crushing, a flotation table is used to separate out the heavier elemental gold and gold-containing particles. They do not use carbon rice but settlement tanks and let the gold rich solutions separate out by gravity before further processing into dore bars. There is a very similar process used at the Coodmilla and Gualconda mines in the Narino district ‘ crushing followed by flotation table then cyanide treatment.

Figure 24. The flotation table at Gualconda, Colombia.

Figure 25. Gold separated from waste from the settlement tanks.

The Coodmilla cooperative, which is run as a non-profit organization, has been in operation for forty years and has four mine titles of which two have been certified by Fairmined. They have one hundred hectares of land covered by their titles and they are currently only working about three hectares. Unfortunately, both Coodmilla and Gualconda are currently out of certification, but not due to mining practices. They are having difficulty meeting the new banking requirements outlined earlier. Fairmined is working with them and the Colombian government to resolve this.

Figure 26. A gold bearing quartz vein.

Figure 27. The Gualconda mine, Narino, Colombia.

Both of these mines are remote. Gualconda has been built into the jungle using the natural slope of the hillside to help with their processes. For Gualconda at least it has been a difficult journey up until this stage. Back in 1974 the mine was mined completely using hand tools and mercury, requiring 466 grams of mercury to process one ton of ore. Once used, this waste mercury was discarded directly into the river and therefore into the ecosystem. The mine has made great progress in cleaning up the mercury contaminated sites however there is still evidence of the mercury processing used that requires cleaning up.

Figure 28. The mercury contaminated site at Gualconda.

Between 2001 and 2006 the mine was shut down due to armed conflict involving paramilitary forces and coca growing. Because of this, about one hundred families were displaced, leaving the area for the local city, but the miners state that life in the city did not suit them. In 2006 they formed their cooperative but their ASM policy was in its infancy and very poor with regard to processing and environmental care. Between 2009 and 2013 they still did not have power for equipment, so they built a water mill using parts sourced from a junkyard. At this point they were still using mercury but had determined that to be a responsible ASM source, they needed to phase out the use of mercury altogether. Initially, their policy was to reuse the mercury rather than just discharge it into the river, preventing environmental damage and reducing the quantity required to process one ton of ore from the previous 466 grams to 25 grams. In 2015 they finally got electricity at the mine and this allowed them to redesign their processing plant, fully eliminating the need for mercury and adopting the more environmentally friendly and safe cyanide-based process that they use today. This gave them an increase of 20% in efficiency, but also increased costs ‘ cyanide is more expensive than mercury when used to process gold bearing ore. However, the increase in efficiency and the knowledge that with Fairmined certification they would get better prices for their gold, plus a premium, made this process the chosen route to help them fulfill their desire to be a responsible ASM source. After three years this is just coming to fruition.

The aim of the miners is not to stand still but to improve continuously, which includes decontaminating the remaining area at the mine where mercury was used for processing. This mine is now considered a model for responsible ASM mining and they have tours through every two weeks to see what they have done and how they have done it. This is all within the backdrop of Colombia still having many social conflicts and corruption ‘ violence and drug trafficking is still prevalent in these areas. It is still the case that many mining titles are given to large mines but the smaller independent mines often go ignored.

Why should you use responsibly sourced ASM gold?

There are many reasons to buy responsibly sourced and certified ASM gold. It may be a good way to get more customers into your store and so can be good for your business. If your customer base is made up of older generations, introducing a product line using ASM gold can be very attractive to both the younger jewelry buying consumer and also customers who may not have considered gold jewelry, but making a purchase that makes a difference is attractive to them. There are jewelers who have decided to convert completely to Fairtrade and Fairmined gold, or at least as much as possible, but you don’t have to do this. Every little bit helps and there’s absolutely no obligation, total conversion of every gold product you make is not necessary. Many jewelers who use ASM gold try one line or one collection to begin with, and if they have success, or the idea shows promise with their customer demographic, they expand their offerings. The story is there: where it comes from, what the extra money is used for. It’s giving back to developing world c ommunities to improve their quality of life. This fact alone often gives customers a reason to buy jewelry made using ASM gold.

How can you purchase ASM gold?

The best way to find out where to purchase ASM gold is to contact Fairtrade or Fairmined (ARM), which can be done via their respective websites, and they will provide you with a list of suppliers and jewelers who are licensees and registered with them. Both organizations have similar systems: if you want to use the name and mark, you have to be licensed. Depending on volume of business, you may have to pay to be licensed, undergo an audit, and pay a fee to the organization for every gram sold. If you do not want to use the name or mark, you can still purchase the gold ‘ there are no restrictions on buying it. In this case you can still call it responsibly sourced gold from artisanal mines, you just can’t call it Fairmined or Fairtrade.

The aim of all businesses is to make money. However, this gold is relatively expensive and so to keep it as attractive as possible to the consumer, when pricing jewelry made from Fairmined and Fairtrade gold, it is advised not to mark-up the premium that has been paid to the mine. To keep the cost of the piece as low as possible, ask the metal supplier to give you the cost of the gold purchased if it was not Fairtrade or Fairmined. This price can be used to calculate mark-ups and then the cost of the premium added in at the end. The more Fairmined and Fairtrade gold sold, the more money goes to help improve the lives of miners and the mining communities.


Where gold is sourced from to make jewelry is a personal choice for the jeweler. Suppliers of gold decide which direction they want to go with ‘ responsible or not – and so jewelers can also decide where and who to buy from. You have a choice. Jewelers who want to take part in the responsible sourcing initiative can do so. There are three main sources to choose from:

Gold that has been mined responsibly but on an industrial scale. Where there is an audit trail, you know where the gold is coming from and you can inform your customers of this.

Gold that is produced from 100% recycled sources. This source of gold has already paid its environmental mining price, and by choosing this option you are getting, arguably, the most environmentally friendly gold supply by using what is already above ground.

Gold that has been mined responsibly from ASM communities. This choice directly helps developing world mining communities improve both their working conditions, their environment, and their lives in general.

Or, you can choose not to take part – it’s your choice. But consider the following:

  • Being responsible can be good for business.
  • All gold has been mined at some point.
  • The overall aim should be to remove irresponsible mining from our industry.
  • There must be transparency and traceability from mine and/or recycler to retailer.
  • There is still a need for both industry and consumer education.

Finally, is ASM gold any different from any other gold? The answer, of course, has to be no, it isn’t. Gold is gold, wherever it comes from. However, it makes where it came from different, it makes how you get it different, and it makes the environmental and social price it has paid to get to you different.


Photo credit:

Photo credit: Marieke Heemskerk

Photo credit: Fairmined Family