19 September, 2017

Fairtrade Gold: A journey from Mine to Maker photographed by Ian Berry

Ian Berry photographing gold mining in Uganda
by Sonia Navarrete, Fairtrade

British photographer Ian Berry has seen much of the world during his career at Magnum Photos. His lens has brought into focus harsh realities from the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 to conflict, famine and apartheid. Now he turns his lens to the exploitative scene of artisanal gold mining.

Ian made his reputation as a photojournalist very young, reporting from South Africa, where he worked for the Daily Mail and later Drum magazine. He was the only photographer to document Sharpeville and has covered struggles in Israel, Ireland, Vietnam, Czechoslovakia and the Congo, famine in Ethiopia and apartheid in South Africa. 

In November 2016, Ian travelled to Busia in Uganda to photograph African miners as part of a project led by the Fairtrade Foundation. Today, these photographs are part of his exhibition Mine to Maker that opens exclusively for one week at the Goldsmith Centre. The photographs follow the journey of the gold from the Ugandan mine to the workshops of London jewellers.

We caught up with Ian ahead of the launch of the exhibition to learn more about his experience.

“I have photographed underground miners before, mainly in South Africa. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect in surface mines, and it turned out to be a very interesting experience, but also a very sad one. Everyone was participating, including the children – and this is sad thing. They do o a lot of work for little return. The thing that struck me the most was to see a whole village essentially dig their back garden, shift tons of earth, sluice the gold-bearing soil through sieves and cloths, amalgamate any minute specks of gold with mercury and then sell the resulting nugget to a middleman who gives them less than a 20th of what gold is worth on the open market. It’s back-breaking, heart-breaking work that doesn’t improve their lives no matter how hard they push themselves.”

Open mercury burning in Busia Uganda

More than 100 million people worldwide depend on artisanal and small-scale mining for survival. 90% of the labour force involved in gold mining is made up of artisanal and small-scale miners. Sixteen million men, women and children work in harsh conditions doing back-breaking work to scrape a living. They produce 380-450 tonnes of gold each year – around 10% of the global gold supply.

Launched initially in the UK, Canada and Denmark in 2011, Fairtrade gold is now present in more than a dozen countries around the world. The long term vision is to reach 5% of the gold jewellery markets over a 15-year period.

“Fairtrade have really good people on the ground there who are helping enormously. They are helping these miners by providing safety equipment and also helping miners deal with the middle man. Now miners wear smart boiler suits and rubber boots; hard hats are essential around machinery. Care is taken to make the often 60ft deep open pits safe to work in and essentially, miners are rewarded with a decent price for the gold they produce. Child labour is prohibited under Fairtrade’s Standards. The aim is to, eventually, remove children from the work in the surrounding conventional mines and get them into school or, at least to begin with, prevent them from distorting their young, growing bodies by being subject to day-long digging."

Ian also visited London based jewellers that work with Fairtrade gold. “When we came back from Africa we visited some of the jewellers that are currently using Fairtrade gold-it is a really good thing that they are so engaged and participating to change the perception.” 

Ian Berry’s Mine to Maker series will be on display at the Goldsmiths’ Centre during the London Design Festival in the heart of Clerkenwell’s design quarter near Hatton Garden between 21 – 24 September.

Part of the photographic series will join a selling exhibition of jewellery curated by Fair Luxury made from Fairtrade and other sustainably sourced materials. It opens to the public 18 September – 27 October. Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 9am – 6pm, and admission is free.

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