Fairmined Gold

By Alyssa on May 2, 2014 at 7:18 pm

*From the Alliance for Responsible Mining website

This article aims to keep our readers up to date on the complicated and nuanced path towards ethical and environmentally-conscious gold standards. More specifically, Bario Neal is currently committed to using Fairmined gold and plans to offer Fairtrade gold in the near future as well. In this article we lay out the details of the Fairmined gold standards set forth by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM).  We also explain the difference between Fairmined and Fairtrade gold. Fairmined and Fairtrade standards and certification have the power to transform the gold mining industry, along with the lives of those dependent upon it. We will update this article as the ethical gold story unravels.

“Globally, over 100 million people depend on Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) for survival. The 15 million ASM miners work in harsh and dangerous conditions to produce just 10-15 percent of global gold supplies, but they make up 90 percent of the global work force in gold extraction. These miners and their families are caught in a vicious circle of exploitation [and] illegality, and many lack the skills and resources to move forward. However, if managed responsibly, ASM mining can provide a great opportunity for poverty reduction and sustainable development for millions of people.” [1]

Bario Neal uses 100% recycled metals whenever possible, the exceptions being our bronze pieces and certain findings like earring backs and clasps that we aren’t able to make ourselves. We are also well aware that regardless of how much recycled metals we use, precious metals will continue to be mined and continue to be recycled. In response to the social and environmental issues surrounding metal mining, Bario Neal has been working to expand our commitment to ethical metal sourcing and more directly support responsible ASM mining. Fairmined gold has only recently become available to the US market, and we are proud to be one of the first jewelry companies to develop a relationship with sources for Fairmined gold.

A Groundbreaking Initiative

Fairmined gold certification is grounded in the Alliance for Responsible Mining’s (ARM’s) vision for responsible Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM). That vision encompasses a “formalized, organized and profitable activity that uses efficient technologies, and is socially and environmentally responsible. It progressively develops within a framework of good governance, legality, participation and respect for diversity and contributes to a generation of decent work, local development, poverty reduction, wealth creation and social peace in our nations driven by a growing consumer demand for sustainable minerals, ethical jewelry and responsibly sourced gold in general.” [2]  ARM’s overall goal in creating the Fairmined gold standards is to bring to market gold that has been responsibly mined and for which miners have received a fair minimum price and premium. ARM promotes the formalization and organization of these standards with the hope that they will bring safer working conditions, fair labor rights, and strong miners’ associations that have the power to lobby for their rights.

This groundbreaking initiative has been almost a decade in the making. From 2006-08, ARM led a multi-stakeholder process in Latin America to develop a collective standard for responsible ASM. From there, ARM developed the Standard Zero, the very first global certification scheme for Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM). In 2009, ARM joined forces with Fairtrade International to create the Fairtrade and Fairmined standard, based upon Standard Zero. [3] In April 2013, ARM and Fairtrade International decided it was best to end their partnership, and ARM now continues its work on Fairmined Gold, while Fairtrade works on Fairtrade Gold. Bario Neal currently sources Fairmined gold, and we plan to work with Fairtrade very soon.

ARM develops standards in accordance with the ISEAL code of good practice for standard setting, and is approved as an ISEAL affiliate. [3] The Fairmined gold standards are grounded in principles set forth by the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN declarations for rights of individuals, the Millennium Development Goals, and the Johannesburg Declaration of Sustainable Development. They respect the national laws in which the mining is taking place, and adhere to ARM’s high standards for quality of life, sustainable human development, environmental stewardship, gender equality, and ethnic and cultural diversity. Additionally, the ARM does not tolerate contribution of profits to armed conflicts. [2] The Fairmined and Fairtrade standards were initially pilot-tested at five mines with nine mining organizations in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru that represent 2,500 miners and their families. The application process for Fairmined certification is now open to all ASM organizations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Who Can Acquire Fairmined Certification and What Does It Ensure?

The standard was designed to have a broad enough scope that ASM operations anywhere in the world could apply. While there are no geographical restrictions, the initial Fairmined projects are all focused on the Andean region. There are currently about 25 mining organizations working toward Fairmined certification, all of which are located in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. The Alliance for Responsible Mining is in the developmental stages for additional projects in Africa, and is working on a project in Mongolia as well. [4] To acquire Fairmined certification, artisanal mining organizations must fulfill a substantial set of stringent standards for responsible mining, the complete list of which can be found on the ASM website. But to keep it simple, when purchasing certified Fairmined gold, we can be sure that the miners:

  • Receive a guaranteed minimum price set at 95% of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) fixing

  • Receive a premium payment set at $4000 USD/kg, which gets democratically reinvested in community projects and improving miners´ operations

  • Receive an even higher premium of $6000 USD/kg for Ecological Gold (extracted without the use of chemicals)

  • Have developed democratic and accountable organizations and have formalized all of their operations

  • Are respected and given freedom of association and collective bargaining (i.e. they are allowed to form and join trade unions and collectively negotiate their pay and working conditions).

  • Are using safe working practices including the responsible management of toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide, used in the gold recovery process

  • Are respectful with their environment

  • Recognize the rights of women miners

  • Do not allow child labor in their operations (no one under 15 years old may be contracted to work in the mining organization and those under 18 must not work in potentially hazardous or dangerous conditions)

  • Have developed long term business relations with responsible commercial partners [4] [5]

The Stamp of Reassurance

With so much effort being put into the traceability of Fairmined gold throughout the supply chain, it is very important that this traceability be maintained even after the Fairmined gold is made into jewelry. Just as jewelers seek out gold that is traceable (so we know what mine it came from and that it was mined responsibly), we have a responsibility to extend this traceability to our products. Bario Neal has plans to use Fairmined gold exclusively (not diluted with recycled or non-Fairmined gold) for select pieces and will ensure that each of these pieces comes stamped with the Fairmined mark.

Mass Balancing

Mass balancing was a big concern before Fairmined and Fairtrade went their separate ways. Mass balancing is a process in which different sources of gold are mixed, making it impossible to trace gold back to its mine of origin. ARM believed in mass balancing because it was concerned about the lack of demand for ethical gold. Ethical gold is very new to the jewelry market. As of now, ethical gold is really only sold by small, specialized jewelry companies like Bario Neal, which make up a very small portion of the jewelry industry. Essentially, the supply of ethical gold is currently greater than the demand, though as customers like you become more invested in supporting ethical gold this balance will shift in its favor. ARM continues to believe that pooling gold will help alleviate this issue by expanding the scope of the market as much as possible. It enables more mines to become involved in the ethical gold movement by leaving each individual mine less vulnerable. On the other side, Fairtrade firmly believes that it is of utmost importance for customers to be able to trace their gold back to its very mine of origin.

When Fairtrade and Fairmined amicably ended their three-year partnership in April 2013, each was able to pursue its perceived best path. ARM is now able to utilize the Fairmined label in the way that it believes is most advantageous for small scale miners and the continued development of the ethical gold market, without having to be concerned about how mass balancing is impacting the Fairtrade label. [6]

Bario Neal’s Approach

Bario Neal believes in the validity of both approaches. We offer Fairmined gold because we believe that ARM is an especially strong organization that has been able to maintain extremely high standards of ethicality throughout the developmental fairly mined and traded gold. We believe that their stringent standard setting process and strong relationships with mining communities have lead to the highest standard of ethical gold currently available on the market. We also believe Fairtrade is doing excellent work, and have plans to offer Fairtrade gold in the near future as well. As of May, 2014, Bario Neal offers most pieces in our fine jewelry collection in 18K yellow Fairmined gold upon request, with plans to make other gold alloys available soon.

Fairmined gold is an exciting new resource that is beginning to create a powerful, positive impact for the environment and the lives of ASM miners.  We will continue to keep you updated as Bario Neal’s relationship with Fairmined, and eventually Fairtrade, gold suppliers continues to evolve.

A special thank you to Christina Miller from Ethical Metalsmiths for her advising on this article.

[1] Fairgold.org

[2] Fairmined Standard for Gold From Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining, Including Associated Precious Metals. Current Version: 2.0. RC (release candidate)/ ARM – 01 January 2014. Alliance for Responsible Mining

[3] ARM Standard Setting. http://www.communitymining.org/en/our-work/standard-setting

[4] Interview with Kenneth Porter of ARM, April 7, 2014.

[5] Alliance for Responsible Mining FAQ’s, “What are the benefits of the Fairmined certification to miners?” http://www.communitymining.org/en/fairmined-gold/14-oro-fairmined/152-faq

[6] Fair Trade Organization and Alliance for Responsible Mining Do Not Renew Contract, Splitting the Fairtrade/Fairmined Label. Marc Choyt for Fair Jewelry Action. April 1st, 2013. http://www.fairjewelry.org/fair-trade-organization-flo-and-alliance-for-responsible-mining-arm-do-not-renew-contract-splitting-the-fairtradefairmined-label/

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Comments (1)

  1. This is an interesting topic. Have you heard of American Apparel? They are a clinhotg company based in Los Angeles which promotes itself as an ethical business, but also capitalizes on the made in the USA label which many Americans are concerned with.

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