Gold is a symbol of love, power and wealth. Look behind the glitz and the reality is not always quite so glamorous.

Gold is mined all over the world. Metal-rich rock, known as Ore, is extracted from the Earth’s crust. Amazingly, 90% of gold miners globally are artisanal and small-scale miners.

Since 2014, Mark and the team at Serendipity Diamonds have been working with Fairtrade Gold and ethically sourced gemstones, creating ethical jewellery which helps workers at the very start of the supply chain. The team are all Fairtrade Gold Ambassadors, helping to advise clients on choosing the right ethical options for their jewellery. 

“Our gold typically comes from Fairtrade, Fairmined or from 100% recycled sources for our jewellery. In addition, we offer clients ethically sourced gemstones and 100% ethical CanadaMark diamonds which can be traced all the way back to the mine of origin.” Mark commented. 

“Engagement Rings and Wedding Rings are such  sentimental purchases. We love to give our clients the reassurance that buying such an emotional item of jewellery has helped workers at the start of the supply chain. We feel this adds enormous value to an item of jewellery.” Mark added. 

Around 60 percent of gold used annually comes from newly mined sources. The rest is from recycled supplies such as old jewellery that has been melted down. Of the newly mined metal, approximately 20 percent is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners. These miners are typically individuals, groups, families or co-operatives using pickaxes and shovels to dig mines, and have few other options for earning a living. This is in stark contrast to large-scale mining sites that are heavily mechanized and managed by large, multinational corporations.

 In addition, an estimated 100 million people worldwide rely on small-scale mining to support their families and communities. Miners work in remote areas and have few other options for making a living.

In non-Fairtrade small-scale gold mines, miners extract the precious metal using toxic chemicals such as mercury and arsenic. Mercury is extremely harmful for human health and for the environment. These chemicals can cause birth defects, brain and kidney damage, and can contaminate water supplies, entering the food chain through poisoned fish. Small-scale gold mining is the largest source of mercury pollution to air and water combined.

Small-scale miners are also exploited by traders because of their poverty, and the absence of regulation and legal protections. They rarely receive a fair price for their product, even when the world gold price rises, as they are usually offered below the market price. Because of this, these miners struggle to generate enough profit or attract the finance needed to invest in their operations or in safer, more efficient mining practices and technology. 

Josephine Aguttu, Tiira Small-Scale Miners Association, a pilot group working towards Fairtrade certification in Uganda, claimed: “The middlemen fear that when we are organised, it won’t be so easy to exploit us – that’s why we were so excited when we heard about Fairtrade. Before Fairtrade, we were just dying in silence.”

Colin Clarke
Author: Colin Clarke