We’re very grateful to Alice Rochester, senior jewellery designer and ethical jewellery expert, from Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery for allowing us to republish her excellent article about the launch of Fairtrade Gold from Africa…
On Thursday 21st September I was lucky enough to be present at an event which marked the launch of the newest Fairtrade gold, the first to come out of Africa. It has made me think about the extraordinary journey the jewellery industry is undertaking at the moment (some in it more willingly than others!) and thought it might be interesting to have a quick look at some of what has happened to get us to this point and what is to come next…
To begin with… a bit of a background into why Fairtrade gold is important
90% of the global workforce involved in gold mining are small scale miners. This means there are 16 million small scale gold miners in the world and 100 million people who rely on small scale mining whether they are the miners, their families or their communities. These people are often working in remote locations which are hard to access and their long days of back breaking and dangerous work mean that they don’t have the means to get to market to sell their gold at a fair price. They struggle to make the money they should from their work and this means that they don’t have the money to invest in safety equipment or training to improve their situation.
Fairtrade pays the miners 95% of the global fixed price for their gold, and then an additional Fairtrade Premium ($2000 US/kilo) goes to the community and they choose what this is spent on. It could fund anything from schools to get children out of mining and into education to improving water sources, depending on what the community needs.
Historically, the jewellery industry has tried to distance itself from the messy business of mining, but as customers are becoming aware of the history of their purchases, the industry is finding it increasingly difficult to do this.
The Fairtrade journey at Harriet Kelsall Besoke Jewellery
Here at Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery we have always been asking questions of our suppliers as to where our gold and gemstones come from, and up until relatively recently we were not able to get the answers we needed. When we discovered that the Fairtrade Foundation and the Alliance for Responsible mining (ARM) were working together and that Fairtrade and Fairmined gold was on its way we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it! Imagine our delight when we actually managed to obtain some of the earliest gold to come out of the mines that were working towards Fairtrade certification. We had to call it ‘fairly traded’ since the mines still had some work to do, and although supply was very limited we managed to make some beautiful jewellery with it! My own engagement ring incorporates a tiny amount of this early gold in the form of a delicate curl of 18ct white gold (https://www.hkjewellery.co.uk/ring-7969-alices-bespoke-rose-and-white-gold-engagement-ring).
We must have been making a fair amount of noise about things, though, as when Fairtrade and ARM were ready to bring the certified gold to market they approached us to ask if we would like to be one of the first 20 companies worldwide to be licensed to use it. We were overjoyed. Prior to this, Harriet herself was approached by Fairtrade gold and was asked to help them define the process of linking smaller jewellers with Fairtrade gold so she helped them by explaining in great detail how we work so that they could get that connection right. The launch of the gold in 2011 was an incredibly emotional event, particularly because we heard from a few of the miners whose lives had been changed by Fairtrade gold certification. Supply to begin with was incredibly limited and some of our customers had to wait months before the eagerly anticipated gold was actually available for us to work with. It was a little frustrating, but so exciting to know that we were at the forefront of this movement and the difficulties we were experiencing were simply teething problems… they would all be ironed out if we had the patience to stick with it.
The first gold came from Latin America – Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. When the Fairtrade Foundation and the ARM decided to go their separate ways, some stuck with one and some with the other, and so for the last few years the Fairtrade gold we have been working with has come from Peru, from a cooperative of miners called SOTRAMI.
For the last few years, Fairtrade have also been working with mines in East Africa, specifically in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The first mine site to achieve certification is called SAMA and is in Uganda. They were also the first to export gold on Fairtrade terms and this is what we had the pleasure of being invited to see on Thursday. We heard about how the miners have been investing in their safety and how the steps they had to go through to become certified have improved their way of life already.
As consumer awareness grows around jewellery ethics, the industry is being forced to take steps to improve their working practices. There are now more jewellers than ever who are registered to use Fairtrade gold and the greater the demand for the gold the more lives can be changed. Over £260,000 has already been raised in UK Fairtrade premiums and the money put towards community, business and environmental projects.
As with the rest of the Fairtrade journey, the story of Fairtrade African gold has been one of collaboration, hard work and hope. We are delighted to have been part of this so far and can’t wait to see what the future brings. More mines in Uganda and some in Kenya and Tanzania are on their way to being certified and it’s exciting to know that we will be able to trace where the gold in a piece of jewellery has come from. I have connections with a village development project in Uganda (www.kanyikeproject.org.uk/) and my honeymoon was in Tanzania, so it sounds like I have at least two more reasons for using Fairtrade gold in special jewellery in the future… and who knows?! Perhaps one day there will be Fairtrade gold from Mali, where my husband’s family are from.
The jewellery we make is even more precious because of the stories that inspire them, and Fairtrade is a huge part of that.