Gold mining is linked to a wide range of serious environmental impacts and human rights violations. On the one hand, large-scale mining, which involves around 80% of world production, is noteworthy for the contamination of ecosystems and for the major repercussions it often has on local communities in countries of the global south, on a social, economic and cultural level: everything from the loss of their livelihoods (such as agriculture or fishing) to major health problems as a result of ingesting contaminated food or water, as well as forced displacement and violence in various forms, the destruction of sacred lands and traditional medicines. All of the foregoing has had a significant impact on the disappearance of many indigenous (original) peoples and their cultures and worldviews, which are so closely bound to the land and the territory.

On the other hand, artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) is often carried out informally, unregulated, in extremely precarious conditions, sometimes involving child labour, and is responsible for almost 40% of the world’s total mercury emissions. Although it produces only about 20% of this precious metal, it provides 90% of the workforce involved in gold mining as a whole. ASM is an economic activity driven by poverty and lack of opportunity in a vast number of countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Worldwide, there are approximately 20 million artisanal gold miners.

Once we become aware of this fact, the commitment to materials extracted in a way that upholds human rights and is environmentally friendly is a basic element of responsible jewellery production.

Responsible gold

Today there are two benchmark certifications for precious metals: Fairmined and Fairtrade. Both labels operate separately, but work according to a very similar standard. They guarantee the responsible extraction of the metal and traceability throughout its cycle, and are grounded on three main criteria:

  • Fair trade: fair prices, decent and safe working conditions, equality between men and women, no child labour.
  • Environmentally friendly: following the highest international standards in the extraction processes to protect the ecosystem and global health.
  • Community development: a share of the profits is earmarked for social and environmental projects, which contributes to empowering and developing the mining communities and their environment.

In our case specifically, we are Fairmined certified, which brings us gold sourced from responsible small-scale mining organisations in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. The Fairmined initiative was set up by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), a non-profit organisation that is recognised worldwide as a leader and trailblazer in responsible ASM. It offers two kinds of gold: Fairmined Gold and Fairmined Ecological Gold.

Other environmentally friendly gold sourcing options include alluvial mining in some European countries. A good example is Fairever Alluvial Eco Gold, extracted as a by-product of a gravel mine in the Mur river (Styria, Austria). While this kind of gold is not audited by third parties, it is fully traceable, since suppliers buy it directly from the source, with the assurance that responsible mining practices are being applied. However, using this kind of gold does not generate the positive social impact on communities in the global south that we achieve with Fairmined or Fairtrade certified metal.

Gold sourced from urban mining is also an appealing option, although its application in jewellery is still in its infancy, the cost is high and the supply is limited.

For further information, see our article Gold to be even more proud of.