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As I stood on the edge of the half hill and looked down I was astounded by what was happening here. Indentured slavery, extreme exploitation, and child labour in the murderous heat of the Rajasthani desert. It beggared belief that this level of pre-civilisation style exploitation of human dignity could be permitted anywhere in modern India. This Garnet mine was feeding the booming Jaipur jewellery economy, that in turn fed the world jewellery markets with cut and polished coloured gemstones for the silver jewellery markets of UK and US high streets. As a jeweller it turned my world upside down as I witnessed the horrors at the source of one of the world’s most creative products, jewellery. How could I sell a piece of jewellery to a customer, let alone buy a piece of jewellery if I did not have a guarantee on the conditions in which my gemstones, silver, gold or diamonds were coming from.

Small-scale mining next to the Nizi River.

Small-scale mining next to the Nizi River D.R. Congo. This is the reason why we need Fairtrade Gold

As my journey into the soft and dirty underbelly of the jewellery trade continued over the years I would learn of the 100 million people who are dependent on artisanal and small-scale mining. This is the second biggest employer on the planet. The gross and obscene economic injustice, where the $230 billion USD in 2012 credited to gold DID NOT trickle down to the 15 million artisanal gold miners in the world. Where mercury, one of the most toxic substances on the planet is systemically used by artisanal miners to amalgamate their tiny portions of gold from the rock they have crushed, as this comment from one of Fairtrade’s pilot gold miners in Uganda told us;

…from the time of conception to the birth of my son, I have been using my bare hands to pan. The same container that I used for panning is the same that I used at home to bathe in. And when I gave birth, I used the very basin to bathe him. Today after learning about the adverse effects of mercury on our health, I realise that mercury could be the reason for my son’s eye defect…

Stella Adeke, woman miner in Busia Region of Uganda

It seems amazing that the huge cultural changes in our country (UK) around ethics in clothing, food, footwear e.t.c. that have in so many ways changed the progressive elements of our society and improved the buying habits of the last two generations has not had any major impact on the jewellery profession. The truth is jewellery is 100% built upon extraction industries, that are the most exploitative, corrupt, polluting and generally deeply unpleasant sectors of industry in our world.

Women miners working with Fairtrade Africa towards Fairtrade Gold certification

Women miners working with Fairtrade Africa towards Fairtrade Gold certification.

This is why in simple terms we need fair trade in jewellery. And it has now started with Fairtrade Gold. Fairtrade standards in any product are meticulous and thorough. With all the huge challenges faced by artisanal miners, Fairtrade’s response has been a long while in the pipe. Launched in 2011, it has taken a few years to bed down and is now ready to spearhead a consumer-led response to the human rights, environmental and livelihoods issue that keep so many miners in abject poverty. The backing of consumer’s willing to raise their voices in asking jewellers to stock Fairtrade Gold, will now be essential if the Fairtrade certified miners are to achieve their goal of better livelihoods and justice for their communities they will need our support.

The power of Fairtrade to transform lives has become a well-established fact in the UK over the last 15 years, however the introduction of Fairtrade Gold as the newest Fairtrade product, presents us all with a fresh challenge.

Fairtrade Gold Stamp

Fairtrade Gold Stamp

Fairtrade has never tackled a ‘mined’ product. This will be Fairtrade’s first journey into ‘the high-end luxury consumer market‘ in gold jewellery, so in many respects the activists and those with a vision to change the world have a fresh an exciting challenge. Just how are we going to switch on the UK to Fairtrade Gold?

The Fairtrade Stamp on a wedding ring also guarantees you that the gold you are buying comes from a certified mine. My friends at Earthworks have worked out that the average 18ct wedding ring creates 20 tonnes of toxic waste. What I hear you gasp, yes 20 tonnes of toxic waste. Imagine walking down the aisle in Church, exchanging your wedding rings and flushing 40 tonnes of toxicity down the toilet. Fairtrade certified gold changes the gold trade from being a dirty business, into a business of economic and environmental justice.

The iconic gold jewellery symbol is the wedding ring. A symbol of love, affection, commitment, solidarity and faithfulness between people. Let us make it culturally unacceptable to buy a wedding ring that has not been created from certified Fairtrade gold. Imagine for a moment that in the UK 50,000 weddings in 2014 were to exchange Fairtrade gold rings. This would mean in real terms, 100,000 rings purchased, close to 500kgs of Fairtrade gold coming from certified Fairtrade miners and $1,000,000USD of Fairtrade premium being invested into the mining communities businesses, communities and social development. This idea simple idea puts consumers, back in touch with the origins of the gold they buy and ensures that the money that is spent on weddings rings does not disappear down a black hole of corporate mining company profiteering, but rather goes back to the pockets of the poor and marginalised artisanal and small-scale miners who are Fairtrade certified.

So lets be one of the first 50,000 to turn the tide in favour of Fairtrade miners. Lets commit to buying, and promoting to our friends who are getting married the idea of buying Fairtrade Gold wedding rings. If you need to find a jeweller working with Fairtrade gold all you need to do is visit The Fairtrade Foundation Gold web page, click on ‘where to buy’ and you will find all the licensed jewellery across the UK.