The global jewelry market is big business. Around 50% of the global demand for gold is for jewelry. A staggering $137.5bn was spent on gold jewelry in 2010, making it one of the world’s largest categories of consumer goods. But for the 100 million people globally who depend on artisanal and small-scale mining for their livelihood, the realities are exploitation, hard working conditions, and unfair prices for their products.
Some 90 percent of the labour force involved in gold mining is made up of artisanal and small-scale miners. They produce 200-300 tonnes of gold each year, around 10% of the global gold supply. The poor and vulnerable in Africa, Asia and Latin America are driven into artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) because it can offer an alternative way to earn a living where agriculture or other activities are simply not viable. Fifteen million people work in harsh conditions to scrape a living and their number is growing, attracted by the recent increases in gold prices. However, the miners and their families face a multitude of challenges as they struggle to survive.
Artisanal and small-scale miners are at the sharp end of a long and complex supply chain over which they have little control. ASM organizations are unable to benefit from the profits made on their gold by traders who can purchase large volumes and wait for prices to be high. The lack of transparency also makes it virtually impossible for consumers to know where and under what conditions the gold in their jewellery was mined.
Most mining laws are geared towards large-scale industrial mining and governments tend to give the large scale industry preferential mining rights. This increases the vulnerability of small-scale miners who find it hard to access legal mining rights, pushing them into operating informally and illegally. Working conditions are hazardous and health and safety measures insufficient. The unskilled handling of toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide poses severe risks to miners, their communities and the natural environment.
- In many cases, the supply chains are complex and non-transparent
- Health and safety regulations are quite insufficient in many cases
- Globally, 100 million people directly or indirectly rely on this type of mining
Fairtrade and Fairmined certification enables miners to:
- Earn their living with dignity by participating in a system that gives them better access to their rights
- Gain more security from knowing they'll receive good prices for the gold they mine
- Invest the Fair Trade premium in community development projects such as education, health and environmental restoration
- Empower themselves, gaining bargaining power with the traders and more control in the supply chain by developing democratic collective organizations
- Improve their working conditions through the mandatory use of protective gear and safer use of chemicals
- Address gender equality through creating better access to mineral sources for women