By Larry Bohlen
The newest Fair Trade standard, gold and associated precious metals, made its debut a little more than a year ago. It promises to improve social and environmental conditions for millions of small and artisanal gold miners around the world.
Brilliant Earth, the California-based ethical jeweler was one of the first to offer jewelry made with Fair Trade gold to U.S. customers. The gold is from Oro Verde, one of the first mines to be certified. The design celebrates the Chocó region of Colombia where the gold is mined. Brilliant Earth notes on its website, “In addition to paying a fair wage, the fair trade gold cooperatives ensure the use of sustainable environmental practices, restore ecosystems damaged by other mining companies, and promote the well-being of the local community.”
According to British fair trade jeweler CRED, “wedding bands represent the ultimate symbol of love” and are “the most popular fair trade jewelry” in the store.
Fair Trade gold jewelry also made an appearance at the Oscars. Film producer Livia Firth wore items made by CRED as she walked the red carpet with husband Colin Firth. This past spring, a grassroots campaign tried to convince Kate Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge, to wear a Fair Trade item at her royal wedding. This did not happen, but with all the media coverage, sales of Fair Trade jewelry took off in the UK and demand outstripped supply. Founders of the new standard are delighted with the response.
So, when will there be more jewelry in the U.S. made with Fair Trade gold? At the moment almost all the supply is absorbed by the European market. According to Marc Choyt, co-founder of recently established Fair Jewelry Action, “fair trade gold is in such demand that whatever is produced is purchased immediately, and dozens of jewelers are waiting to sign up.”
In the U.S., Fair Jewelry Action is helping to build capacity and awareness of the new standard. One of its current projects is reaching out to American jewelers to survey their interest and to help match them to future suppliers of Fair Trade gold.
Increasing supply means building a verifiable link from mine to merchant. Programs are needed to:
- Recruit more mines to go Fair Trade and green
- Train miners in ecological mining
- Invest in new pollution prevention equipment to protect workers and their communities
- Refine gold in a way that preserves chain of custody
- Manufacture stock pieces like chains and clasps that jewelers like to work with
Supporters of the Fair Trade gold standard hope that non-profits, foundations, investment groups and companies dedicated to a fair trade economy, will use their resources to help transform the fine jewelry sector into one that is fair and green.
Larry Bohlen is president and founder of Green Leaf Gold, a triple-bottom line gold mining company founded to bring Fair Trade, ecologically mined gold to market.