High up in the mountains, where powers of ice and sun battle for supremacy, another fight has been taking place. In the harshest environments over 4500 meters above sea level, in freezing temperatures, where the sun burns the skin, only the toughest communities strive to make a living.
Deep in the jungles, it’s not just the flora and fauna that try to reclaim every inch humans settle. Other humans can be the biggest threat, with armed militias and drug cartels roaming the remote areas, constantly looking for leverage.
And yet, against all odds, every day, people there still dream of building a better, safe, and stable future for their children. And what they rely on to do so, is one of world’s most valuable resources: gold.
Mining gold is not an easy feat. Either deep in the unyielding rock, or the vast fields of gravel and sand, it takes considerable effort to claim the tiniest amounts, even as little as 0.18g of gold for every cubic meter of earth.
Did you know:
2500-3000 tons of gold, that’s 2 500 000-3 000 000 kg, are mined every year.
Fairmined certified gold makes up only 0.006% of that.
That’s why every gram of Fairmined gold counts.
There are many ways and nuances of mining gold. Far too many to summarize here. Just to give you an idea, we can split them into two categories: large scale mining (LSM) and artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). They come with their own challenges and impact, for people and the environment.
Did you know:
LSM is responsible fo approximately 80% of gold mined annualy, but it’s mostly automated and employs only 20% of the people working in the industry worldwide. ASM extracts only 20% of gold, but provides jobs for 80% of people in the sector. By choosing artisanal gold, you help 150mln people make a living. By choosing Fairmined gold you help them do it fairly and responsibly.
But if one thing is true: everywhere humans extract resources, the efficiency and profit drive the practices.
From lowering costs by using the cheapest and fastest extraction method: mercury; to criminal activity, slavery and hostile takeovers of land oftentimes involving bloodshed, it’s a tough business that affects the vulnerable local communities most. The things we take for granted, like social security, health and education, standard safety equipment for workers, or proper disposal of chemicals, are a luxury.
Mercury is a deadly poison that doesn’t degrade in the environment, as a natural element it only changes its form and impact. But it has an amazing ability to temporarily bond with tiny gold particles you can’t even see, extracting them from sediment or crushed ore, creating what’s called an amalgam: a shiny fluid ball that’s easy to scoop up.
In informal, illegal or downright criminal mining, the gold bearing sediment is poured in a barrel with mercury added. Then, a worker mixes them together, often with bare hands, or stepping directly into the container, until the amalgam forms. The leftovers are being spilled directly into the soil or water, contaminating everything forever with extreme, unnatural doses. The water then seeps into strems, rivers and finally the ocean, where it will poison all life. The life, like fish, we later consume.
To release gold from the bond, mercury needs to be burned out. In the poorest communities, this is done by someone with nothing but a T-shirt over their mouth, as pseudo protection from the fumes. It’s no use, a cotton garment is no barrier for mercury.
Prolonged exposure can cause nervous system, kidney, lung and brain damage. As well as death. There is no antidote for mercury.
Who would be so careless? Often desperate people, coming from extreme poverty, with no other options for income to feed their families. Taken advantage of, sometimes lured by crime groups with promises of high earnings, they get trapped, relying on this activity for their livelihood.
The exact effects of mercury poisoning due to this kind of extreme exposure are unknown, because no health care or monitoring is provided in these situations.
Meanwhile, the demand for gold is steadily rising. Your phone, your car, all your electronics, some cosmetics, jewelry, medicine, finances – they all require the shiny metal. And we haven’t yet found a way to synthesize it, so we can only get it one way: by extracting it from the earth. And often, for the poorest communities in the most remote areas of the world where gold is found, this is the only way to make a living.
So what can be done?
Everyone needs to make their own choice when it comes to sourcing materials; depending on availability, needs and values.
As an artisanal jeweller, I choose Fairmined certified gold, #goldtobeproudof, because it’s one of the highest social and environmental standards for artisanal and small-scale mining. And it’s not just words, but actual, real actions.
On my recent trip to Colombia, I talked with some of the miners from Chede – one of Fairmined certified mines. We met at an informal lunch setting and it was encouraging and heartwarming to see them relaxed and happy. One of the miners, Hector, told me how he used to work in an illegal mining operation and how it took him years to get a job at a legal mine, Fairmined certified at that.
I asked him about the differences between the setups.
A word that came up a lot during our chat, was „stability”. Even though illegal mining sometimes pays a higher day rate, you don’t actually get as many days working and you never know when work will be available. There is no social security, no health coverage, no benefits. Just a great unknown. Not to mention the insecurity of working „illegaly”. So what was most important to Hector, and other miners supporting their families, was the stability and fair wages Fairmined provides.
Fairmined gold costs a premium, which directly supports the mines and communities where gold comes from. Some of the money helps with the mine development through investing in technology and infrastructure that generates higher yield from the same ore, so nothing ‘goes to waste’. Some funds are transferred to the community: building roads, playgrounds and schools for local kids, organizing social events and projects, or environmental cleanups and education about the ecosystems.
All of this contributes to a better future these communities are trying to build. And you can help, by choosing Fairmined gold.
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Learn more about the dangers and struggles of gold mining: