A recent report has revealed that gold from conflict zones is entering gold markets illegally. Allan Bond of BT Global Services recently travelled to Tanzania with a group of BT employees to see the difference that Fairtrade gold is making to a small group of artisanal miners in Geita.
While the global gold industry reels from the revelations of Amjad Rihan, on the cover-up on conflict gold despite new regulations to protect the most vulnerable, there is a more positive story that comes from the many, rather than the money, in the gold sector. Fairtrade is supporting over 1,000 artisanal gold miners in East Africa to become Fairtrade certified and supply traceable gold to consumers in the UK and worldwide.
I recently returned from a trip hosted by the Fairtrade Foundation’s Amy Ross to see how Fairtrade is helping miners improve conditions in their mines ahead of certification. This is my diary.
Today we are heading out to Geita in the heart of Tanzania’s gold land to visit artisanal miners at the Golden Hainga Njombo mine. Tanzania is Africa’s third largest gold producer mining up to 300 tonnes a year with around 1.5 million people working in artisanal and small scale mines. This is a perilous industry. The vast majority of these small mines are illegal and unlicensed. Miners often work long hours without basic safety equipment such as boots, helmets or goggles in mines with little or no structural support.
The burning of mercury is common among the small mines that litter this landscape. Mercury is a highly toxic substance that is used to extract gold from low-grade ore, and workers can suffer sickness, memory problems and impaired vision. Mercury deposits can also pollute vital water supplies and enter the food chain through fish. Once the ore reaches the surface, it is hammered into small pieces by women using heavy mortars often with small babies on their backs. As I watched this arduous process, I could feel the sharp fragments hitting off my skin.
It can take up to one tonne of solid rock to be mined and manually lifted to the surface to produce a single gram of gold. Under a three-year programme funded by Comic Relief, the Fairtrade Foundation is breaking the mould with a pioneering scheme to create ethical gold mining by improving working conditions – banning child labour, enforcing health and safety rules and preventing pollution of the environment with toxic chemicals. In return these miners will get a fairer price benefiting workers, families and entire communities.
Comic Relief is working with the Fairtrade Foundation to support three mines in Geita to promote safe and responsible mining practices and investment in mining communities. The irony is how such a precious commodity can be mined in such terrible conditions. Since the inception of Fairtrade gold in 2007, four mines globally have so far been certified. The success of this programme is dependent on the willingness of consumers (you and I) in Europe, Asia and America to pay more for the Fairtrade standard for gold.
You too can play a part in supporting the miners by spreading the message and encouraging your friends, family and local jewellers to look for the FAIRTRADE Mark for gold.
You can find out more about Fairtrade gold here.