Anna Bario, co-founder of Bario Neal Jewelry, attended the Cooperativa Multiactiva Agrominera de Iquira–Alliance for Responsible Mining Workshop in Colombia last November, 2014. Iquira is a gold and silver mining cooperative that was formed in 2004 in collaboration with the coffee farms in the town of Iquira—in fact, many of the miners and their families alternate seasonally between artisanal gold mining and coffee cultivation. The goal of the cooperative was to create a platform for community organization, enabling the development of safe and environmentally sustainable mining and cultivation practices that also yield a fair and livable income. Iquira has since achieved Fairmined certification. Anna will recount her experience at the workshop in three posts, first giving an introduction with an inside look at Iquira’s Fairmined practices, followed by a walk through the mining tunnels, and finishing up with a look at the processing plants. Each section will finish with a quick Q&A. We hope you enjoy!
Blog Archive: Mining
In February 2015, the first mining organization from outside of South America obtained Fairmined Certification. Over the past couple of years, the Mongolian mining NGO XAMODX has been working very hard to meet the requirements of the Fairmined Standard, and is now celebrating its achievements.
From the outset, the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), the non-profit organization responsible for creating the Fairmined model, has focused on facilitating the implementation of Fairmined standards and certification in mines in South America, where there are currently three Fairmined organizations. While any gold mine anywhere in the world can apply for Fairmined certification, achieving the rigorous standards that enable Fairmined certification is difficult. With the help of the Sustainable Artisanal Mining (SAM) Project of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation in Mongolia, XAMODX has become the fourth Fairmined organization in the world, and is currently the world’s only producer of Fairmined Ecological Gold, a special label of the Fairmined Certification reserved for Fairmined Gold produced without the use of mercury or cyanide. (Read More »)
Pact is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that works with poor and marginalized communities around the world to help them attain a decent livelihood and healthy lifestyle, with a focus on sustainability. Bario Neal is particularly interested in Pact because of their Mines to Markets project, in which Pact applies its mission to mining communities in Colombia, DRC, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, and elsewhere (click links for details on each project). (Read More »)
Twice a year Reclaiming the Sierra, a strategic campaign of The Sierra Fund, hosts a conference in Sacramento, California–at one point the gleaming center of the California Gold Rush. Believe it or not, even though the original gold rush happened in the mid 1800’s-early 1900’s, effects of the historical mining activities continue to impact the region today. Reclaiming the Sierra is dedicated to addressing those ongoing impacts of legacy mining. (Read More »)
I met Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst for the Enough Project, at a roundtable discussion on responsible gold sourcing and mining this past summer. The Enough Project fights to end genocide and crimes against humanity, and their current initiatives are focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC or Congo), Sudan, South Sudan, and Central African Republic. The conflict in Congo, and the role of gold and other minerals in that conflict, has not been a constant headline in the US, but the details Holly shared about the war there are shocking. At the same time, the progress toward a more transparent, sustainable mineral trade that Holly outlined is impressive and inspiring. This winter I interviewed Holly about the war in Congo, the role of gold and other metals mining, and the Enough Project’s work there.
AB: The war in the DRC is the deadliest since World War II, taking the lives of more than 5.4 million people. Much of this violence has been funded by the extraction and trade of minerals including tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. Can you explain the relationship between these minerals and the conflict in the region for those who are unfamiliar?
HD: The war in Congo began following the Rwandan genocide in 1994. At that time, armed groups were motivated by political power and grievances, as well as tensions and trauma related to the genocide. But Congo’s lucrative natural resources quickly became a source of revenue for violent armed groups in Congo and their backers, including the national army, and eventually became part of the complex landscape of motivations that sustained the fighting. For over a decade, investigations have revealed that armed groups are financed by and motivated by exploiting natural resources. For most groups, in order to take control over those riches and run successful illegal trading networks, they terrorize the civilian populations. For example, rebel commanders enslave civilians to work under brutal conditions at the mines, they abduct children in the communities to work and fight as part of their forces, and they use rape to tear apart the fabric of communities, force people to flee out of fear, and submit to their orders. There are many things that motivate groups to do this, but conflict minerals are the driving financer of these activities, and often one of the motivators.
AB: Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act is intended to prevent armed groups and militias from profiting through the illicit minerals trade by requiring publicly-traded US companies to conduct supply chain audits and trace the gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten in their supply chain. I have been impressed by the impact of this legislation and the new awareness of supply chains it is creating in the jewelry industry. But Dodd Frank could be construed as effectively creating a boycott of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from DRC and the surrounding countries. It has certainly impacted legitimate mining operations as well. What reactions have you heard from artisanal miners, regional companies, and Congolese government in response to the legislation?
HD: One very common reaction we hear on the ground, from diverse stakeholders including miners, mining community civil society groups, local government, and church leaders, is that Dodd Frank is spurring in-region reforms that have been desperately needed for decades, but never put in place because there wasn’t the right outside pressure. Now, after prolonged entrenched illegal conflict minerals trading and brutal violence, Dodd Frank is creating market incentives to put pressure on regional authorities to finally build a clean minerals trade and support local economies by transitioning a lawless, violent minerals sector into a formalized trade. This will not be an overnight process, however, and yes, the livelihoods of legitimate, peaceful artisanal miners are harmed by the market forces that are making it less profitable for armed groups to terrorize civilians for control over mineral wealth. That’s why more reforms are needed to accompany Dodd Frank to make sure artisanal miners have a fluid way of joining the growing clean minerals trade in Congo, or have alternative livelihoods opportunities like agriculture and small business. We work on building support for in-region projects like this, especially among companies. One of our biggest advocacy goals is to create awareness and momentum among retail companies to source from the region, and support the development of a clean minerals trade there. Some bold, responsible companies have committed to continue to source from the region and helped build clean sourcing initiatives there. Boycotting the region is not the responsible thing to do, and in the long run, with more investment, some of the most prosperous business will hopefully be in Congo’s clean minerals trade.
AB: The electronics industry and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition have been at the forefront of developing traceable, conflict-free mineral sources in DRC. Beyond supply chain audits and due diligence, how has the industry partnered with organizations like the Enough Project to create conflict-free products with materials from DRC? What are the parallels for how the jewelry industry can contribute?
HD: Industry actors have collaborated with Enough and other groups in a number of ways apart from supply chain management. First, companies like Intel, Motorola Solutions, and AVX have, with help from advocacy organizations like Resolve, Enough, and Congolese civil society councils, piloted closed-pipe conflict-free mines in Congo to begin to establish clean minerals sourcing opportunities for companies who want to support the region, along with job opportunities and growth for local communities. It would be a game-changer to see a critical mass of jewelry companies get involved in supporting conflict-free gold mines in the Great Lakes region, especially Eastern Congo. We are already starting to see interest and involvement in a closed-pipe gold mine in the Kivus by companies like Tiffany and Signet, but these initiatives need a broader push and financial support to advance those mines and make sure artisanal miners and communities benefit.
The other major impact of our collaboration with the tech industry has been in raising public awareness, especially on college campuses, which in turn launch their own powerful campaigns to influence the wider public. We’ve worked with Intel and others to create short videos to help explain the issues, hold rallies on college campuses and big public events with celebrity upstanders like Aaron Rodgers and Robin Wright. Tech companies have been with us organizing and supporting these initiatives, hoping to educate their consumer audiences and empower the next generation to carry the momentum forward. Jewelry companies, large and small, could follow that example, especially with their power in advertising and around the holidays. People attach sentimentality and enormous value to jewelry and jewelry brands – companies could use that power to raise awareness and elevate the importance of this issue to a broad public audience.
AB: How can smaller jewelers support the development of conflict-free gold mines in DRC? What is the scale of investment needed?
HD: There is broad range of investment needed, especially considering the important need for investment in artisanal mining communities and alternative livelihoods. The beauty of the in-region initiatives is that they are generally very collaborative and multi-stakeholder in nature, taking into account a number of different interests and perspectives, including downstream companies, mining companies, local and national government, and both local and international civil society groups. For the conflict-free sourcing initiatives, even small investments can make a difference. For community projects helping create agriculture or micro-finance opportunities or formalize artisanal mining, investment can start even lower to have a meaningful impact. Funds are needed for small business loans, distributing registration cards to artisanal miners, buying equipment for safer mining practices, and school fees for children who once worked in the mines, but due to reforms, are now given the chance to leave the mines and go to school. Small jewelry companies can make very important contributions with smaller grants to programs like that through their organizers, including Partnership Africa Canada, Solutions for Hope, and UNICEF. Small companies can also join efforts by attending events like Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forums on responsible sourcing, the Responsible Sourcing Network’s multistakeholder calls on conflict minerals, or the Public Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade. Small jewelers are also critical in raising awareness about the issue. The jewelry industry traditionally is very powerful over public consciousness, in part because consumers attach so much personal and sentimental value to the jewelry they buy. Public awareness does not happen overnight, and it doesn’t need to be widescale to be important. If small jewelers can influence a small subset of their customers to take interest in this issue, that interest can have ripple effects.
AB: Can you tell us more about the Mukungwe and Masisi conflict-free gold mines under development in the Kivus?
HD: The Mukungwe and Masisi mines are meant to build on successful conflict-free sourcing initiatives in Congo in tin and tantalum. The vision for investors, communities, NGOs and companies involved is to build fully conflict-free large-scale gold mines in eastern Congo. That way refiners and companies will have clear options for supporting Congo’s gold trade while still complying with Dodd Frank 1502. Mukungwe and Masisi are two examples of that vision in development. They are both works in progress, working to responsibly address conflict risk factors, and community needs, including alternative livelihoods programs and shared understanding of the mines’ impact on human rights and the environment. These kinds of projects must develop and maintain true multi-stakeholder involvement – including new mining police, tasked with helping to monitor security and transparency, and the invaluable work of local community-based organizations to monitor the projects’ impact. With this kind of investment, opportunities for conflict-free sourcing will increase, and gold mining communities will see increased security as armed groups are pushed out and replaced by regulated mining activities.
AB: The tension between large-scale and artisanal mining occurs alongside mineral and gemstone extraction all over the world. Because of the complexities of oversight, security, protocols, and international trade, investment can tend to focus on larger scale mines. How are the conflict-free 3T and gold mines in development in DRC approaching the relationship with artisanal miners?
HD: Large scale mining is an important way for Congo to benefit from its natural resources, as long as the industry development is done in a responsible manner, complementary to artisanal mining. Large-scale mining has the potential to bring revenues and development to the population. It’s true that when a large-scale mine is established, it can be at odds with artisanal mining communities because many artisanal miners may already be surface-mining the area that is set for development into a large scale mine. The responsible thing for companies and government partners to do is first, consult early and often with the artisanal mining community to assess the impact of the proposed large-scale mine and understand the grievances and interests of the artisanal miners and their families; second, to employ as many local artisanal miners as possible in the large-scale mine, and allow artisanal miners to continue mining parts of the concession wherever possible; and finally, to invest generously in alternative livelihoods projects for artisanal miners who can’t be employed by the mining company because of limits on the number of workers needed for large-scale mines.
AB: With initiatives like Fairmined or Fairtrade gold, much effort goes into the labeling, tracking, and tracing of the materials even after it’s been made into jewelry. Do you see conflict-free gold from DRC going this route? Would it be, for lack of a better term, ‘branded’ as conflict-free gold from DRC?
HD: The more transparency at any stage in the sourcing of gold and production of jewelry, the better. We encourage a variety of different approaches to ensuring that retail companies and consumers know where their gold is coming from and whether or not it is verified conflict-free. We’re also supportive of country-of-origin transparency because simply conflict-free gold without transparency about where the gold is from could indirectly encourage an embargo on the Great Lakes region and falls short of a comprehensively responsible approach to conflict-free gold sourcing. Truly responsible companies will support growth and development and peace in areas like Congo where gold has fueled conflict, rather than focusing on sourcing conflict-free gold from places where conflict hasn’t occurred in recent memory.
AB: Are there initiatives such as women’s cooperatives, microlending, or miner education that work with artisanal miners in the region?
HD: There are a number of incredible Congolese organizations working on this issue, including Synergie des Femmes in North Kivu and Maman Shujaa in South Kivu – both are women’s organizations designed to support women affected by violence in eastern Congo. The leaders and members of these organizations take great interest in the development of conflict-free sourcing initiatives because conflict minerals have a significant adverse impact on the safety and wellbeing of women and girls. Armed groups use rape as a weapon of war as part of their strategies to control mining areas in the east, and even in times of relative peace, mining areas are hotbeds of prostitution, rape, and child labor. Synergie and Mama Shujaa take a comprehensive, locally-led approach to these issues and do invaluable work to support communities and solve problems from the grassroots.
In addition, international groups like Eastern Congo Initiative, Partnership Africa Canada, and UNICEF are all doing work in this space – creating alternative livelihoods for former artisanal miners in areas like agriculture and small business, transitional child laborers into school, and helping support, educate, and equip artisanal miners for safer, more regulated, and more profitable work in mines.
RSVP by October 5th for this event. Get to know the Alliance for Responsible Mining and Fairmined gold initiatives.
Event takes place on October 16th at 6:30PM at the Makeshift Society, 235 Gough St., San Francisco CA 94102
Jean-Noel Soni is the mastermind behind Top-Notch Faceting. Jean creates award-winning, precision cut gemstones that are ethically-sourced, cut by hand, and created without the use of computer-aided design . In his words, the unique facets in his gemstones are “all figured by man.” I had the opportunity to take a peek at his notebook and the degree of detail and geometry that goes into every gemstone is remarkable. Speaking with Jean, it’s clear that he is incredibly knowledgeable about the materials he sources, and is passionate about his process and unique perspective on the industry.
Jean-Noel Soni’s interest in gemstones began at an early age. Raised by his mother, a collector of antique jewelry, Jean was surrounded by intricate vintage trinkets as well as his mother’s talented jeweler friends. His introduction to gemstone cutting started in 2009, taking a once-a-week class at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. The curriculum was solely in cabochon cutting, or stones that are polished and shaped without facets. Jean’s interest in gemstone cutting took off. Jean states that cabochon cutting is very precise and this experience aided his understanding in creating the dimensions for a stone.
Since Randall didn’t offer classes in facet cutting, Jean decided to take matters into his own hands. Saving money to spend on gem cutting equipment every few months, Jean turned to how-to books in gemstone faceting, including a vintage German book his mother owned from 1896. At this point, it seemed clear that gemstone cutting was Jean’s calling. Jean picked out other books from the library, paying close attention to the detailed diagrams, illustrating interesting facets and techniques.
More or less self-taught, Jean’s work is precise and thoughtful. He strives to create heirlooms from gemstones with the understanding that the material is finite. Never creating the same stone twice, Jean takes the needed time to design each stone. “For me, I really enjoy the challenge of taking whatever shape is presented to me and changing that into a gemstone. It can be challenging depending on the shape of the stone.”
Browsing through Jean’s instagram he is clearly prolific. “I love to work. I love the challenge and the ritual.” He was kind enough to send us a few before and after shots of stones, as well as a few shots from his studio. The transformation of a rough stone into a gem is quite magical and even sculptural.
“I use an older faceting machine. By machine, it is only a motor that spins round grinding wheels in different grits, horizontally. Each facet on every stone is ground down in finer and finer grits until each is polished. The trick lies in keeping all the facets at the proper depth and keeping symmetry. [This is] all done by eye and hand. There is also a whole other slew of things that go into cutting a gem including orientation of the crystal, dopping (attaching) the stone to a quill with wax so it doesn’t fall off and polishing, which is it’s own science by itself. I do not use any computer programs for my work at all. The materials are all very different and I feel that computers can only account for so much. Besides it’s more fun to figure out the stones with my own head.”
I asked Jean about his views in the gemstone industry and appreciated his honest and critical approach. He mentioned that often in the industry, gems are cut for optimal weight, rather than precision cutting, which brings out natural beauty of the stone. “In the commercial gemstone cutting industry, it’s business as usual.” Jean notes that in the industry, people source cheaper materials rather than the quality of stone, but notes that a few people, such as himself, are searching for high quality products.
Jean prides himself in his ethical sourcing, saying the best way to ensure that a stone is ethical is to work small and stay local. Jean works directly with miners, traveling to places as diverse as Romania, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka. His stones are vibrant, clear, and untreated. Some of his favorite stones to work with are garnets and zircons. Every once in a while, Jean will find a zircon stone with a phenomena called double-refraction, which creates an almost double-vision effect. “You’re essentially watching the molecules vibrate.”
Please join us at NextFab Studios for a discussion with Jean-Noel Soni about his practice on September 24th, from 5-7PM. Please sign up here: https://nextfab.ticketleap.com/jewelry-lecture/dates/Sep-24-2014_at_0500PM
Saturday Reading: EPA Decision on Bristol Bay Pebble Mine, Mountaintop Removal Victory, Polar Vortex Linked to Climate Change
EPA Propose Limits on Alaska’s Pebble Mine Project via the Washington Post:
Dennis McLerran, the regional administrator for EPA Region 10, told reporters Friday the agency had concluded that even a mine much smaller than the one currently envisioned by Pebble’s sponsors would produce “almost unfathomable amounts of rock” which “posed significant risks to the fragile ecosystem” in Bristol Bay.
The EPA was taking this step “to protect the world’s largest salmon greatest fishery what would certainly be one of the world’s largest open pit mine developments ever conceived of,” he said.
Movement to End Mountaintop Removal Wins Huge Court Victory, via ILoveMountains.org:
In a huge victory for our water and our future, a federal appeals court stated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are authorized to enforce laws on water pollution from mountaintop removal mines.
After years of effective organizing, our movement pressured the EPA to issue a water quality guidance in 2011 that used peer-reviewed science to show the devastating impacts that mountaintop removal coal mining has on Appalachia’s water. Unfortunately, a coalition including the National Mining Association and the state governments of Kentucky and West Virginia sued to prevent the EPA from protecting our water from dangerous coal pollution.
This important ruling says that the EPA was correct to enforce the law and follow the science to protect Appalachian waters and community health.
Remember that brutal, frigid winter we had here on the east coast? This seems obvious, but a new study has linked the polar vortex to climate change.
As the last few days of summer linger, you’d be forgiven if you feel a wave of anxiety upon the inevitable return of crisp, cold mornings. There’s no two ways about it: Last winter, replete with polar vortexes galore, was brutal. And we may not have seen the last of them.
New research published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications attempts to track the polar vortex disturbances back to their source.
The study, written by a team of Korean and American scientists, is the latest (and perhaps most comprehensive) attempt to answer a question that’s as hot as any in climate science right now: What’s the impact of melting Arctic sea ice on extreme weather?
Through a blend of statistical analysis of recent weather and computer modeling of a world in which rapid Arctic ice loss hadn’t occurred, the study establishes a link between the warming ocean, melting ice, and weakened polar vortex. For the first time, the study also proposes an epicenter of action where years of extreme ice loss in particular appear to dominate this process: a remote part of the Arctic between Scandinavia and Siberia.
I reached study co-author Seong-Joong Kim, a climate scientist at the Korea Polar Research Institute, by phone in a Seattle hotel room, where he was preparing to discuss his work with American colleagues at a conference devoted to extreme weather and Arctic sea ice.
As strange as it sounds, Kim believes the intense cold air outbreaks in recent winters across Europe, Asia, and North America are, in his words, “a side effect of global warming.” Building on results released in the new paper and his interpretation of other researchers’ findings, here’s his best guess of what’s going on. Abnormally warm waters in the tropical Atlantic travel up the Gulf Stream toward Europe in the late summer and fall months, motivating exceptional sea ice melt in the Barents-Kara seas north of Scandinavia. When that area is ice free, the open water releases heat into the atmosphere during November and December, and sets up an anomalous blocking pattern over the Ural Mountains. By midwinter, as more and more heat is being transferred to the Arctic, the troposphere and stratosphere can link up, destabilizing the polar vortex, weakening the jet stream, and sendingwaves of cold air southward.
We recently received a lovely e-mail from Ethical Metalsmiths to jewelers using FAIRMINED gold: “Responsibly sourced, fairly mined, fairly traded, transformative and fully traceable gold is no longer an idea, but a reality and you are the ones making it happen in the United States […] What I am most excited about and think you may be too, is that the premiums you paid on your certified gold has been applied to the building a of a new high school in Relave, Peru. The use of the premium is democratically decided by a committee.” We are so proud to see the benefits to the mining community and their families. Images courtesy of Ethical Metalsmiths.
Bario Neal is proud to offer ethical, traceable Australian diamonds. Currently, all of our Australian diamonds originate from the Argyle Diamond Mine (ADM) in the Kimberley region of northwestern Australia. We are also exploring a new source for rough diamonds from the Ellendale Diamond Mine, in West Kimberley, but for this post we’ll focus on the Argyle Mine.
Far from any populated areas, in a region of precipitous mountains and severe cliffs that descend into lakes and rivers reflecting the bright red soils and deep green scrubby foliage, lies the Argyle Diamond Mine. The Argyle mine is the world’s only significant producer of rare pink diamonds, and produces a large portion of the world’s supply of naturally colored diamonds, including champagne, cognac, and rare blue diamonds. The Ellendale mine is especially known for its production of rare yellow diamonds.