Gold without guilt

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The world’s first standard for sustainable, fair trade gold has been launched in the Netherlands. Under the name 'Fairtrade & Fairmined', Dutch development organisation Solidaridad has developed a label for gold produced under conditions that are fair, safe and environmentally-friendly. The Peruvian gold mine Cuatro de Enero is the first to be awarded the label.

Love, fidelity, romance and hope. Faith in the future. These are the things we associate with gold jewellery. But for many people, gold means something completely different: health problems from mercury poisoning; children missing school to search for gold; heavily polluted rivers; desolate places without sanitation or healthcare, but where prostitution is rife.

[media:image]That’s the reality of many gold miners’ settlements. And, until recently, if you wanted to buy gold, you had no choice about whether or not you wanted to support that kind of business. Most people were unaware of the misery behind the precious metal. But now things have changed.

To carry the label 'Fairtrade & Fairmined', gold mines have to meet strict requirements, including safe working conditions and sustainable environmental standards. Santiago Ramírez Castro is the general manager at Cuatro de Enero. He has come to the Netherlands to attend a presentation of the first piece of fairtrade gold jewellery, accompanied by economist Federico Gamarra Chilmaza, who assists miners for the organisation Red Social.

Fairtrade and Fairmined:

Ninety percent of the gold mined throughout the world comes from large-scale mines. Here mining is heavily mechanised, requiring relatively few workers.

The rest of the world’s gold come from small mines, employing 20 million people altogether. This is where the worst working conditions and environmental problems are found.

The Fairtrade & Fairmined label is for small-scale gold mines. Gold miners receive a 10 percent Fairtrade premium on top of the guaranteed minimum price to be invested in the local community or in improving company practices.

Miners trained
Santiago Ramírez never though he would become a gold miner, never mind run a mining company. He comes from the capital Lima, but was unable to make a living - so he took to the mountains in southern Peru to look for gold. He worked there illegally with around 700 other gold miners from various regions. “After a while, we decided to organise ourselves,” he says.

“We bought tools and hired engineers, got trained, learned about mining as well as management. Then we decided to set up a business so we could further develop the mine.”

Now the settlement has grown into a village with 2,500 residents. The mine is still the main source of income, but there are restaurants and shops now, too. Miners are given meals by the company and continually receive training.

The village has been given a name: Centro Poblado de Cuatro Horas. And a school has been set up, financed by the mine. “The children are given a good education, some have even gone to university,” says Ramírez. “We even have a first aid post. And women work too, but not in the mine. They look for gold by hand in the small pieces of rubble.”

Federico Gamarra Chilmaza admires the mine workers of Cuatro de Enero. “The history of the mine is a good example of solidarity. The way they used their own money to bring education and medical care in when they were still working illegally! This is why they can live good lives now.”

Ramírez, who was democratically elected to be the manager, is proud that all his workers get a fixed wage, whether or not they find gold. Cuatro de Enero Mine is a prime example to other mines in Peru, according to Gamarra. But they still have a long way to go before they can carry the good gold label on their products.