We all love gold. From the ancient Mesopotamians until the present day, gold has been prized for its beauty and become synonymous with wealth and power. Despite the global trade in gold, the people who risk their lives to extract this precious metal often receive very little compensation for their work. So what are the alternatives for consumers looking to support a more ethical and sustainable approach?
Where does gold come from?
Some of the biggest gold reserves in the world are found in South Africa, with smaller deposits in other parts of Africa, Russia, Canada and Brazil among others. As with all non-renewable natural resources there is a finite supply so once one source is exhausted another must be found.
The gold used in your jewellery starts life as a rough ore which is removed from the ground through a variety of methods including both large and small scale mining. The gold is extracted from the ore then refined to remove impurities and turn it into useable materials such as sheet & wire.
What is the difference between large and small-scale gold mining?
Large scale mining (LSM) is generally carried out at an industrial scale, highly mechanised and regulated to ensure reasonable working standards and reduce the risks to workers. By contrast, artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) is often unregulated with poor safety standards and a lack of resources and equipment to protect miners. Despite working long hours, small scale artisanal miners are often trapped in poverty and vulnerable to exploitation, injury and overwork.
In both cases, the effects of mining can be hugely destructive to the local environment – displacing communities and polluting water sources – as well as leaving behind a toxic landscape once a mine has closed and operations have moved to another location.
In the quest for a more ethical alternative, transparency and traceability are key to ensuring that artisanal small-scale miners are treated fairly and paid properly and the local environment is respected. For those looking at a more responsibly sourced options there are currently three main alternatives – Fairtrade, Fairmined and recycled gold.
Above: Fairtrade gold bands showing the Fairtrade logo (Source: www.fairtrade.net)<