Fair Trade Gold Standard Could Revolutionize Mining and Jewelry

By Jesse Finfrock

In March, the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) and Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) launched the first Fair Trade certification for gold, potentially revolutionizing metal industries stretching from mining to jewelry and opening up new market opportunities for millions of responsible small-scale miners.

Organized miners in Peru (Photo: Alliance for Responsible Mining)

The new Fair Trade certification standards are especially important as gold prices soar while artisanal miners only receive payment for a small fraction of the value of their work. Around the world, mining and refining practices continue to wreak havoc on human health and the natural world. In the worst cases, as recently highlighted by National Geographic and CBS’s 60 Minutes, gold mining can be brutal labor in toxic conditions that poison societies and environments alike.

The launch of these new standards is a groundbreaking and praiseworthy step toward empowering miners to improve the social and environmental conditions in the mining industry. For the first time ever, a third party independent certification will set a minimum price for gold and will enable miners to form groups to increase their bargaining power within the mining and jewelry industries. The Fair Trade certification also offers a 15% premium (above the London Bullion Market Association fixing) to small-scale mining initiatives that mine gold under strict ecological restoration requirements and without the use of chemicals. Furthermore, ARM and FLO are taking a chain-of-custody approach to certification, which means that the gold will be tracked from mine to market.

In creating the Fair Trade certification standards, ARM and FLO spent years working with artisanal small-scale mining operations throughout Latin America. In fact, as I’ve noted here before, ARM itself was inspired by the decade-long work of Oro Verde, a small ecologically oriented gold mine in Colombia whose members actually helped form ARM and create the new standards.

Indeed, small-scale miners and local communities have been integrated fully into the standard-setting process, including as ARM board members and technical advisers. The standards also underwent three rounds of public consultation, included face-to-face workshops and learning sessions at local and global levels, and were drafted in four languages. The inclusive process, as CAFOD policy analyst Sonya Maldar explained at the time, has led to a legitimate and effective new certification:

Consumers [of ARM/FLO certified Fair Trade gold] will be able to trust that the artisanal and small-scale miners were not left out of the process. ARM works directly with small-scale miners to help them organize and set up projects, and FLO is ensuring that the miners receive a premium for their product.

Jewelry aficionados can help miners and their communities build a stronger, healthier future by supporting the most responsible small-scale projects. We should all demand the highest ethical standard for our jewelry so we can wear it with pride and honest elegance. But this goes beyond jewelry and has the potential to change the way we mine and process other metals used in everything from electronics to architecture. The launch of the Fair Trade certification for gold is a clear step forward into a more equitable future.


Jesse Finfrock is cofounder of The Clarity Project. The Clarity Project is a fair jewelry social enterprise dedicated to improving the quality of life for miners and their communities. You can email Jesse, or follow The Clarity Project on Twitter.

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