The Transformative Power of Fair Trade Gold in Africa

The Transformative Power of Fair Trade Gold in Africa
Fairtrade gold comes from crushed rock, which is refined in a manner that is environmentally safe.
At a Glance
  • Small scale goldmines in Africa might employ 40 to 60 people and generate between half a kilo to two kilos a month. Fairtrade teaches miners how to mine safely. Miners get up to 30% more for their gold, plus a community premium, which allows them to break out of the poverty cycle.

Fairtrade Gold Africa. Working together, empowered small scale miners and ethical international business people become an economic driver that alleviates poverty and preserves the environment.

Fair Trade invited me, as North America's only commercial representative, to see these new projects in Kenya and Tanzania in May of 2014. I visited several sites, working with inspiring people from Fair Trade Africa who are supporting this initiative by working directly with the miners on the ground.

The Fairtrade gold model in Africa works with underprivileged, small-scale miners. An operation of 40 to 60 people might mine between three quarters of a kilo to a single kilo of gold a month. They dig in vertical shafts about six feet by six feet.

The ore is then crushed into fine powder with machinery.

Then the gold needs to be concentrated in the crushings, which is done either by hand or through sluices in containment ponds.

Mercury is then mixed with dirt, gold and water, creating an amalgamate, a solid compound of mercury and gold, which could be anywhere between 70% and 90% pure gold.

Fairtrade gold not only supports the local economy, but it is 20 times more environmentally friendly than traditional large-scale mining. Fairtrade mines extract 20 to 25 grams of gold per ton of rock, while large-scale mines average just 1.5 grams per ton.

The Question of Mercury
Worldwide, small-scale gold mining uses 1,400 metric tons of mercury annually. I have spoken with environmental leaders in North America who have some objection to Fairtrade gold because of its use of mercury. Not only does it spill out in liquid form into waterways, but the miners burn the mercury out of their gold in frying pans they use to cook their dinner, creating methyl mercury, one of the most dangerous neurotoxins known.

Under Fairtrade standards, a retort is used to safely prevent the mercury from escaping into the environment, and then the mercury can be reused. Ultimately, Fairtrade's goal is to eliminate the use of mercury entirely. Miners are incentivize with additional premium payments to get off mercury completely.

In Uganda, the location of the first certified fairtrade gold mine, miners have been given equipment which allows them to process gold without the use of mercury. This kind of initiative will hopefully be a model for other small scale gold mines in Africa as they enter the Fairtrade system.

"With fair trade that supports empowered producers and ethical international business people, small-scale gold mining can become an economic driver that alleviates poverty and preserves the environment." Marc Choyt, President, Reflective Jewelry

Sitting On a Gold Mine But Stuck in Poverty
The economics of fairtrade gold is very appealing to the small-scale mining communities.

These days, a kilo of gold might have a value of between $40,000 and $45,000. Miners sell minute amounts of gold to barely feed their families. Middlemen buy this gold at up to 30% under its real value. Also, because refining methods are not efficient, miners leave another 25% of their gold in the rock tailings.

They make between $100 and $300 a month, and often struggle to survive. They are sitting on a gold mine, working incredibly hard, and are still stuck in a poverty cycle.
Fairtrade Gold: Development and Empowerment
When fair trade gold standards are in place, gold is purchased initially at 95% and eventually at 98% of the international spot price. Additionally, a $2,000 per kilo premium is paid back to the community, which can be used as the miners choose. With the premium and additional revenue, better equipment can be purchased which can then lead to another 20% worth of gold from the ore.

With fair trade that supports empowered producers and ethical international business people, small-scale gold mining can become an economic driver that alleviates poverty and preserves the environment. Money stays in their local economy. With fairtrade gold, the miners fully benefit from the resources garnered from their own homeland.
Building Greater Community
The miners we met with were leaders; eager to share what they had learned with others. Slowly, over the next several years, as fairtrade gold is introduced to the North American consumer market, I am certain we will see a profound and positive shift in the zones where these pilot projects are taking place.

Our trip was also about building greater community around common values of ecologically responsible mining, as well as economic and social justice. To listen to the miner's stories of how they struggled, and to see how much they had achieved was incredibly moving.

The gold from the mines I visited will be fairtrade certified sometime in the summer of 2015. When I buy some, I'll be able to point to the hole it was dug and tell my customer that this piece of jewelry is profoundly helping artisanal miners live much happier, healthier lives.

As for you, what could be better than choosing to wear a piece of jewelry, that in its sourcing is environmentally responsible, alleviates poverty and represents a hopeful path for millions of impoverished small scale-miners around the world?
Marc Choyt, President of Reflective Jewelry, with Kenyan miner, Suleman Aliwa, Fairtrade gold represents a new partnership between producer and jeweler.

Only Fairtrade Gold Jeweler in the USA 
since 2015

Santa Fe, NM Green Business of the Year

Catalyzing the Ethical Jewelry Movement

Winner of MJSA Responsibly Sourced Design Challenge

Founder of First-Ever Ethical Jewelry Blog

Collaborators of USAID Zahabu Safi (Clean Gold) Project