Gold is one of the most expensive commodities in the world, but often little of its value reaches the miners whose backbreaking labour makes the market possible. 90% of gold miners globally are small scale or artisanal. These men, women and children, work long days, usually with rudimental tools which are often dangerous and allow them to find only small nuggets of gold. It is estimated that they produce 380-450 tonnes of gold each year, just 10% of overall production.

Artisanal miners sell on their hard-won gold to middle men, usually at a fraction of the price that it will be subsequently sold on for. To improve this situation 2011, Fairtrade gold certification was launched initially in the UK, Canada and Denmark, and has since spread to more than a dozen countries. But until now, none of these have been in Africa.

More investment for fairer gold

On 21 September 2017, Fairtrade officially launched its Investment Facility to help small scale and artisanal miners in East Africa gain low interest loans. These can be put towards increasing productivity and will help miners move towards Fairtrade certification. It is also hoped that the Facility will encourage miners to partner with the Fairtrade Foundation, helping the NGO to uphold human rights policies which aim to prevent war crimes, bribery, money laundering and child labour.

“Ugandan artisanal miners produce 2.8 tons of gold per year, earning as little as 50p a day.”

Michael Gidney, CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation said: “We have been listening to mining groups and the challenges they face to mine responsibly and have, in response, generated a number of innovations at the mine and market levels. We have also been working to secure the safe passage of gold from mine to market. Working with CRED [Jewellery], we are delighted this evening to announce the first trial shipment of Fairtrade certified gold from Africa, including a commemorative ring.”

Ugandan gold

In Uganda alone there are currently around 50,000 small scale and artisanal miners working mainly on the gold seam that runs along the Victoria River. They produce 2.8 tons of gold per year, earning as little as 50p a day.

But as the first batch of Ugandan Fairtrade gold arrives in the UK, hope for a fair price and safer working conditions grow. The gold comes from the Syanyonja Miners’ Alliance (Sama), a cooperative which gained Fairtrade status in 2016 as part of the Fairtrade Foundation’s pilot project. This was launched in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania in 2013, and Sama, which produces 5kg of gold a year, was the first group of artisanal miners to officially gain the certification.

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The Fairtrade Foundation, together with CRED Jewellery who has purchased this initial shipment of gold and other committed jewellers, hope to protect miners, and allow them to profit fairly from precious metals within the confines of the law. The Investment Facility will provide anywhere from US$1-2million over the next few years, but Fairtrade is leaving the project open-ended.

It’s hoped that the first African Fairtrade golden jewellery will be in a small selection of stores before Christmas, and in 2018 the market will be broadened out by the creation of an export platform and the inclusion of Kenyan and Tanzanian gold as well. Beyond the next few years, the Fairtrade Foundation is hoping that this precious metal can also become a fair one.