FairTrade Mining

Greg Valerio with a woman gold miner in Sierra Leone.

Greg Valerio with a woman gold miner in Sierra Leone.

The resources of the land should belong to the people of the land.

Over the years of my search for the purest jewellery in the world, I have been led down a highly unorthodox and unconventional path. The path of Fair Trade Mining. All luxury fine jewellery is created from an extracted product such as gold, platinum,  diamonds or gemstones. The very source of luxury jewellery is the earth, and without precious metals and stones there would be no luxury jewellery to speak of.

It is to these earthly sources and the communities that depend on these precious jewels, that a large part of my journey as an ethical jeweller has been dedicated. It is to these sources that I remain unswervingly committed. To play my part in their transformation and empowerment. For it is by the sweat, born of the hard work of mining communities, that dignifies and anoints all luxury jewellery, including my own. To deny credit and acknowledgment to this truth is to be complicit in their exploitation. Jewellery is worn to beautify, there is no beauty in exploitation. This in summary is why I and others are fully committed to the principles of FairTrade Mining.

What is FairTrade Mining?

The FairTrade Mining approach seeks to work with ASM communities to break out of the vicious circle of poverty, economic exploitation and ecological devastation that is systemic in all forms of mineral extraction.

The guiding principles or values of FairTrade Mining are opportunity, access, equality, ownership and dignity.

Opportunity. Every community should have the opportunity to grow and flourish. Poverty prevents communities from growing, as the vulnerability of subsistence living limits opportunities in every area of life. FairTrade Mining is specifically focussed on marginalised communities, as these are the communities who are denied a fair access to markets. It is not a process looking to work with large scale transnational mining conglomerates as these constructs already have an unfair advantage.

Access to markets. Sustainable wealth creation is at the foundation of every successful community. Everyone has the right to work in a safe and secure way, and this requires there being enough money for everyone’s to have what is needed for a fulfilled livelihood. We know that at the root of poverty is economic exploitation and limited access to open and fair markets. FairTrade Mining works to give communities access, in a fair and transparent way, to international markets as well as legal and fair local markets. With a proven track record of connecting ASM communities to international markets

Equality. Everyone who works in mining should be treated equally. However as we know this isn’t the case. Women and children are especially vulnerable to inequality, whether in the work place or in the businesses and organisations that take decisions. FairTrade Mining seeks to strengthen the human and social capacity of groups, so that everyone is represented and empowered to make decisions for the benefit of the entire community.

Ownership. Mining is a profoundly unjust practice. Large scale mining corporations seek to own land to then be exploited for profit, more often than not at the direct expense of local artisan mining communities. This practice of displacement is unjust. By working with ASM communities to legalise their practices, gain land rights and the mineral rights to the land they belong to, helps to prevent corporate exploitation and displacement.

Photo by Ronald de Hommel

Oro Verde were the mining pioneers of ecological clean gold mining. They proved it can be done.  Photo by Ronald de Hommel

Dignity. Everyone should be afforded the dignity of being able to earn a decent living from the work they undertake. Artisan miners are no different. FairTrade Mining places the dignity of the miner and their community and the ecosystem at the centre of the process. What benefits people, benefits the land on which communities thrive. If the land is cared for and nurtured, the people in turn live more dignified lives. This symbiotic relationship is critical to the success of all life and demonstrates that ASM mining can be done in a life enhancing dignified way.

My Approach.

In order to preserve the integrity of the FairTrade approach there are some basic rules that I adhere too. These rules help to bring clarity to the working relationship with the partners on the ground and increase the chances of a successful outcome.

  1. I do not accept equity or joint ownership as payment. Communities need to know they are the beneficary alone.
  2. I only work with groups that are prepared to agree to a ‘destination FairTrade‘ goal. Getting FairTrade certified is not easy and takes time, yet is hugely worthwhile and enriching for communities committed to walking towards this goal.
  3. Realistic time frames must be set, so communities can manage their expectations and resources. Typically it takes between 3 to 5 years to achieve FairTrade certification in gold.
  4. A local support organisation needs to be identified to work alongside the community. From experience this massively improves the chances of successfully arriving at a Fair Trade destination.

Find out more.

With a proven track record of working with ASM communities and delivering , traceable supply chains, organisational capacity building, mercury free gold processing solutions, miners training, legalisation and formalisation for small gold mining organisations and COOPS, the FairTrade Mining team has decades of experience of serving communities around the world to transform livelihoods for the better.

So if you are a non-government organisation working with small-scale artisan miners, an existing gold mining communitiy based organisation, or a small company seeking to improve the quality of the mining work you are doing, considering FairTrade Mining is a very real opportunity.

Feel free to contact me via email : greg@gregvalerio.com

Countries worked in and experience gained.

Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Greenland, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo.