Going for Gold
Since my last blog I have had a number of steps forward in this ethical journey. In partnership with the Incorporation of Goldsmiths we will hosting an ethical jewellery symposium at the end of March where I will be presenting at. My presentation will be to help show the makers present what kind of mines their money supports, directly and indirectly. There are really only two types of mines here, industrial and artisanal. The 1st world industrial mines are of little concern from a humanitarian perspective, they have health and safety, rules and regulations and it is up to the companies and governments how they operate. It’s the artisanal mines that are of great concern as while they only produce approximately 10% of the global gold production annually, they make up over 90% of the global gold miners. It is this 90% of the worlds gold miners that we need to pay more attention to.
I am going to visit four mines. One 1st world industrial right here in Scotland which will soon be possible for jewellers to buy from. The other three will be artisanal, one under the Fairmined umbrella, one under the Fairtrade umbrella and one under no umbrella at all. The purpose of this project, which I will deliver at the symposium, is to show the makers’ first-hand what they are supporting when they buy their precious metals and to get them to think about sourcing ethically.
When we buy precious metals, unless it is hallmarked Fairtrade, Fairmined or Scottish gold, then there is no way to know if it came from an industrial or artisanal mine. The unassisted artisanal mines are highly problematic, killing and injuring their miners and harming their communities. Many, in different parts of the world, have exploitation issues as well consisting of child labour and even slavery. Lack of financial infrastructure in gold mining means no health and safety which has children playing with mercury to separate the gold in their hands. Mercury poisoning is an awful thing that exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. High levels of methyl-mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn. Unregulated mines are set up with no health, safety and welfare in mind, so essentials such as lack of tunnel support is a regular killer due to collapse. Oxygen isn’t pumped into the mines and miners have no respiratory protection from the harmful dusts and gases from underground, giving some miners a life expectancy of 30 from chronic lung conditions at best.
So, the question is, do you wish to support this? I don’t think there is anyone who would be pro these problems. But when buying a nice piece of jewellery, object ‘art, fine product, mobile phone, computer, smoke detector, camera, printer, keyboard, do you think about where its components come from? Where the gold in them comes from? Nope, you just want the best deal at the best price, we all do. And that has to change.
We have to create the demand. The only way to make sure we are sourcing responsibly and not supporting exploitation, is to demand fairly sourced products. This change won’t happen overnight, it will take a long time and only if enough of us make enough noise about doing things the right and fair way for everyone on the ground, where it begins. There is a strong argument to claim that if you are not sourcing ethically then you are supporting exploitation as there is not other way to be sure that your precious metals (and all goods for that matter) are not coming from somewhere that is rife with exploitation.
OK, so how do we know where our goods come from? We have to trust the distributer, supplier and manufacturer at their word right? In the gemstone industry and many others yes as there is not third party auditing system. But in the precious metals industry things have changed, doorways have been opened and ethical paths have been carved by responsible pioneers that we can all follow. This is what I want to show people, the responsible and irresponsible pathways. It is up to them to decide which way they go, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink might be an appropriate analogy here. When I decided to sign up to Fairmined and Fairtrade I didn’t know how to, or what to do to get on the right side of the ethical divide either. So this presentation will be to shine a light in the unknown areas for people who want to do the right thing but don’t know how, guiding from my own experience.
Getting people to sign up to a responsible movement is all very well and good, but it’s (in my opinion) not enough. I think we have to do more, I think it is our responsibility to give back and help build foundations at ground level where the mining communities work. The second part of my project will be a charitable fundraiser jewellery ball in Edinburgh towards the end of June. Raising monies to give back to help the infrastructures of the very mining communities I will have visited at the next step of this project.
Further details and specifics will follow as I blog and document this project. But my “Going for Gold” campaign starts here and now. Updates, entries and videos will be posted in the coming months about how this journey is coming along. I hope it proves to be as interesting for you as I know it will be for me. . .
This Is Ian