Rolberto Alvarez of the small-scale agromining association “La Fortaleza” from Nariño, Colombia, was invited to participate in the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference to share the story of his organization and community and their path towards responsible mining.

Susan Wheeler, jewelry designer and founder of the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference, visited La Fortaleza in March 2018 during a trip organized by the Alliance for Responsible Mining. 22 jewelers, buyers and media representatives from Europe and the US had the possibility to visit Fairmined certified mines and get to know personally the miners who extract the gold they use for their products.

Rolberto Alvarez, legal representative of La Fortaleza, always had a clear vision and a focus on responsible mining, working on a continuous improvement of the organization’s social and environmental practices. Susan was inspired by Rolberto’s story and invited him to the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference from 19-20 October 2018 to share his story with a bigger audience.

Approximately 100 representatives of the global jewelry and mining sector participated in the conference and were touched by Rolberto’s speech. He started his story in 1974 when the organization worked with no electricity, rudimentary tools and high levels of mercury to extract the precious gold from the “La Gualconda” mine. He shared insights about the difficult situation when their community was displaced due to the armed conflict and why they created a community-driven association after returning to their territory. He explained how they have been continuously working towards more responsible mining practices, first on their own, and since 2014 with the Alliance for Responsible Mining as their partner.

He earned himself applause and cheers when he recounted how they have been reducing mercury step by step and finally reached its elimination in December 2017. Rolberto also was transparent about the challenges of complying with the constantly changing norms and legal requirements in Colombia. “Being a small-scale miner in Colombia is like swimming against the tide”. Still, he and his 12 partners not only work hard to comply with legal requirements, but they always aim to go beyond that. Their next big project is the clean-up of a mercury-contaminated area within the mining title which they want to turn into a reforested area which people can enjoy in their leisure time. They plan the installation of a pool, kiosks, walking trails and historic mining tools for a pedagogical and illustrative purpose. This innovative and unique project is supported by Christina Miller, a sustainable jewelry consultant, who is raising funds within the industry to help progressing more rapidly.

Apart from giving his presentation, Rolberto had the opportunity to meet and connect with many actors of the global jewelry industry which helped him to understand better the other side of the supply chain. He realized that there is a high demand for Fairmined certified gold in the market which motivated him even more to re-certify and provide his contacts with his responsibly mined gold.

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