Cooperatives to promote fair trade gold are expanding as consumer awareness of the abuses in the gold mining industry is growing. Dirty gold mining is widespread and its labor and human rights abuses are well documented. Miners are forced to work in very dangerous conditions as large mining companies focus on maximizing profits and disregard worker safety – hundreds of miners have died in South African mines alone in recent years. Child labor is common in the industry with an estimated one million children working as gold miners at high risk to their lives and for little to no pay. Dirty gold mining can also wreak long term havoc on local region’s economies by ruining land that was previously used for sustainable agriculture with destructive environmental practices.
For these reasons, the fair trade movement, which recently included mainly the chocolate and coffee industries, has focused on creating a fair trade standard for gold. Fair trade cooperatives are organizations that exist to promote economic stability in the regions in which the products originate. Cooperatives consist of retailers who are committed to promoting social responsibility by promising to pay a fair price for the goods they are purchasing and who buy the goods directly from the farmers or miners. By eliminating the middleman, they can pay a fair price which promotes economic stability for the producers while not requiring outrageous prices to be set for the end consumers.
Fair trade gold initiatives were rolled out several years ago in Latin America, and in 2012, a pilot program was announced to begin development of fair trade gold in three African countries: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda . The pilot program will work with specific mining communities in these countries to improve their technical skills and consequently improve hazardous working conditions, while guaranteeing that child labor is not used. In addition, the program will train workers in ways to mine gold that does not damage the surrounding environment. The miners then sell their products to companies who are part of the cooperative for buying fair trade. The fair trade certification for this African gold will provide a guarantee to consumers that the gold truly originates from socially and environmentally responsible practices. Through this system, miners are rewarded with a fair price and buyers have the assurance that they are promoting economic growth in the areas they invest in. The ultimate goal of fair trade in Africa is to promote a sustainable economy and higher standards of living in the region.
Though fair trade African gold is not yet available to consumers, Brilliant Earth fully supports the fair trade industry in Africa and in other nations. We were proud to introduce the world’s first source of independently certified fair trade gold into our collection with the Chocó Fair Trade Pendant. The pendant is independently certified to promote environmental restoration and conservation and to promote a sustainable livelihood for local communities in Chocó, Colombia.
In addition to fair trade gold initiatives, Brilliant Earth is fully committed to establishing a fair trade diamond certification system. The dangerous and abusive working conditions for artisanal diamond miners have been well documented, and millions of diamond diggers in Africa work for less than a dollar a day. We believe it is essential to establish an industry-wide fair trade diamond certification system to ensure economic and social justice in artisanal diamond mining communities in Africa. A fair trade diamond system could allow diamond miners to cutout the unethical middlemen, organize into cooperatives owned by the diamond diggers themselves, and earn a sustainable livelihood. Brilliant Earth’s non-profit fund is supporting pilot programs to establish these fair trade cooperatives and produce development diamonds for socially conscious consumers, including Brilliant Earth customers.