Gold mining is a global business, with operations on every continent bar Antarctica. In 2018, international gold deals amounted to roughly 4.5 billion Great British Pounds. In 2019, approximately 3,300 tonnes of gold were produced worldwide. In case you were wondering, that’s the equivalent of around twenty-three million and one hundred thousand apples… Like that’s any easier to envisage!
Of the workforce behind the extraction of all this gold, 90% are employed by artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) operations; organisations centred on extracting and processing gold on a small scale, using rudimentary techniques. There are approximately 20 million artisanal gold-miners worldwide. Taking into account these miners, their families and their communities, there are roughly 150 million people on Earth who rely on ASM gold for an income.
Though quaint by name and fruitful in revenue, artisanal and small-scale mining remains a largely poverty-driven activity. ASM activity is low-tech, labour-intensive and often spans entire working lifetimes for the individuals involved.
Many ASM operations are not formally recognised by law, allowing them to fall under the radar and side-step regulation checks. For this reason, ASM is broadly linked to conflict, child labour, environmental destruction, irresponsible mercury use, unsafe working conditions, gender inequality and economic exploitation. Most artisanal and small-scale miners earn only just enough to get by; leading back-breaking, precarious lifestyles not to thrive, but merely to survive.
In spite of the negative associations attached to ASM activity, some mining operations see mining as a way to strengthen their communities, and are working hard to pave the way in responsible practise.
Initiatives like Fairmined have made it their mission to identify these operations and transform ASM activity into an active force for good, piece by piece. Fairmined recognises the viability and hard graft of artisanal and small-scale miners worldwide and works to ensure that they are afforded the respect, recognition, protection and investment that they deserve, both in work and in life.
Fairmined begins every project by identifying an ASM organisation that has demonstrated passion for responsible mining. Take La Llanada, for example; the Colombian mining community that has dedicated the past three decades to mining gold without the use of mercury. Either on the ground right alongside the miners or via a local partner organisation, Fairmined spends an average of 18 months imparting knowledge and providing training, covering areas such as health, safety and environmental protection. With this grassroots approach, Fairmined can feel confident that positive changes are made from the ground up, ensuring a sustainable impact.
Towards the end of the initiation process, a third party organisation performs an audit. If compliant, the mining operation is awarded a Fairmined certification and can begin selling their certified gold on an international scale. Fairmined Gold is sold to the market with a premium, which enables market players to contribute directly to ASM operations and their communities, covering the costs of the certification and investing financially in environmental protection and socioeconomic development. A Fairmined certification also guarantees ASM operations fair trade prices for gold, direct access to international markets, responsible supply chains, legitimacy within the government, international audiences and industry, and access to a network of other miners and experienced allies.
Moving forwards, certified operations must continue to comply with the requirements of the Fairmined Standard, which apply not only to social development and environmental protection within the mining operation, but to the broader community as well.
Thanks to initiatives like Fairmined, there is now an increasing global awareness, in both the media and consumers, of ASM activity and its downfalls. These issues are complex, widespread and deep-rooted, and overnight change is impossible. But, trailblazers like Fairmined represent a rising voice for change from inside the industry, and an ever-growing desire for supply chains to feel proud of. Moving forwards, seeing how increasing value is placed on responsible practises could incentivise new market players to revise their approaches and begin making room for sustainable materials and processes.
As Fairmined-certified ASM operations are rewarded for their commitment to responsible practise and championed as the fundamental pioneers in this growing trend towards ethical production, an incentive to follow suit is also extended to other small-scale mining operations.
At the tail-end of the supply chain, Fairmined helps to deliver gold to ethical businesses like ours, whose bread and butter is labelled products with strict traceability requirements. We can rest safe in the knowledge that our gold is responsibly mined, with the welfare of the mining communities and their environments the utmost priority. We can share with our clients a beautiful story of origin, in turn providing a sense of human connection with the people behind their unique jewel.
Fairmined is invaluable in how it transforms the face of ASM gold from the inside-out. It takes revolutionary steps towards a world that protects and uplifts the 150 million people across the globe for whom ASM gold is a livelihood – making sure they don’t slip through the cracks of our capitalist society.