- ¿What is Fairmined gold?
FAIRMINED certified gold comes from artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) organizations that meet the FAIRMINED gold standard. This means the gold has been responsibly mined and that the miners have received a FAIRMINED Minimum Price and Premium, which assists social, environmental and economic development in the communities.
What are the benefits of the Fairmined certification to miners?
The Fairmined Label ensures that gold has been extracted and processed in a fair and responsible manner. This means:
- Miners‘ organizations are strengthened
Miners form groups to give themselves better bargaining power with traders, to get a fairer return for their gold, and gain greater control over the jewelry supply chain. They are required to participate in the social development of their communities.
- Child labor is eliminated: Miners ‘organizations must eliminate child labor.
No one under 15 years old may be contracted to work in the mining organization. Those under 18 must not work in hazardous or dangerous conditions.
- The rights of women miners are respected
- Working conditions are improved
FAIRMINED certification requires mandatory use of protective gear and health and safety training for all miners.
- Freedom of association and collective bargaining is respected.
Miners’ organizations recognize the right of all workers to establish and join trade unions and collectively negotiate their working conditions.
- Responsible use of chemicals is mandatory.
Miners must use safe and responsible practices for management of toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide, in gold recovery. Chemicals have to be reduced to a minimum and where possible eliminated over an agreed time period.
- The miners develop long term business relations with responsible commercial partners.
- The certified miners receive a guaranteed FAIRMINED Minimum Price.
- The certified mining communities receive a premium payment, which is democratically reinvested in community projects and improving miners´ operations.
How do artisanal and small-scale miners use chemicals to extract gold?
Mining methods vary according to geology of the area. The gold found in riverbeds is easier to extract from the surface without chemicals using just basic tools, river terraces, or digging pits. Hard-rock mining underground extracts ore which is processed on the surface to extract the gold. Most commonly, it is mixed with mercury, which captures the gold to form a mixture known as amalgam. The amalgam is then heated which evaporates the mercury, leaving residual gold and other metals.
Some small-scale miners use cyanide as an alternative to mercury. Cyanide leaches the gold from the crushed ore, dissolving it in the water. As this process requires substantial investment, special training, a longer processing time, and significant financial capacity, it is less widely used by ASM miners. However when used properly, cyanide enables miners to eliminate mercury completely and increase gold recovery rates.
¿What is the impact of chemicals used in mining?
The environmental impacts of ASM depend on where it occurs, but can include deforestation, land degradation through air, water and soil pollution from dust, mud or toxic substances, as well as impact on local wildlife. By working with the mining organizations before certification, it is possible to drastically reduce these impacts with the proper support and incentives. ASM is not significantly dirtier per unit of output than other mining activities, and since ASM processes much less ore than large-scale mining per ounce of gold, the magnitude of its impact on the land is much smaller.
Why are chemicals allowed in the Fairmined standard?
If chemical use were not permitted by Fairmined standards, 95% of all ASM would be excluded from the Fairmined system. Instead the standards set out a process to support ASM mining organizations to minimize the use of mercury and cyanide over an agreed period of time through responsible practices and technologies to mitigate impact on the environment and human health. The Fairmined standard require ASM miners to use a process which ensures that mercury emissions are drastically reduced. For many miner organizations the Fairtrade premium can provide the only opportunity to invest in more environmentally efficient technologies.
¿ARM advocates for gradual reduction in mercury use. Would it not be better to ban mercury use worldwide?
No. The mercury issue is not only an environmental problem. The mitigation, reduction and elimination of mercury in Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining (ASM) in the world are a complicated subject that requires global coordination and an agreement to act from many different parties. The exclusive focus on prohibition produces undesirable effects, most notably the increased marginalization of mining communities and negative impacts on health and environment. Instantly banning the use of mercury would only foment a black market and make matters even worse.
For the vast majority of the fifteen million people that depend on gold mining for their livelihood, mercury is a technology that is available and accessible. The gradual elimination of mercury in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) will require holistic strategies, which include:
- Determining where mercury is used and taking measures to educate the miners and the communities about its impacts and best practices.
- Mitigating risk of mercury contamination to people and ecosystems by promoting concentration and the use of retorts.
- Incorporating alternative technologies that can be easily and efficiently adopted by artisanal miners.
- Creating financial and credit systems which will allow miners to access funding for technological advance.
- Facilitating access to new markets in order to create incentives for formalization and the progressive elimination of mercury use.
Miners feel the damages of mercury on their own bodies, environment, communities, and are willing to make changes in their methods when they have the possibility to do so. In order for these changes to become reality, it is necessary to legalize and recognize ASM activity and to assure technology transfer and capacity building, as well as access to infrastructure and basic support services.
¿Is Fairmined certified gold produced without the use of chemicals?
Yes, there are ASM mining organizations that do not use chemicals when mining and promote conservation. The gold produced by groups with strong environmental management systems in place and who are not using chemicals will be known as ‘Ecological Gold’ and these products carry an additional premium on top of the Fairmined premium. The additional premium recognizes the additional costs in maintaining environmental controls.
¿Would it be better to recycle unwanted gold instead of extracting more to limit the environmental impact of mining?
Although recycling is a good way to reduce the environmental impacts of mining, only 30% of the market for gold can be satisfied from such sources. Fairmined certified gold will provide direct developmental impacts for ASM miners, who may otherwise take up other exploitative activities in the drug or sex trades.
¿How are the miners organized?
The Artisanal and Small-scale mining operations are organized in many different ways. This includes small businesses, cooperatives, community-based organizations, and associations. To be eligible for certification the organization must:
- Be registered as a legal entity in its country of operation
- Have established a register of all the miners within its scope
- Have clearly defined its System of Production including the processing units and a System of Internal Control in areas where it operates.
- Have obtained its mining and environmental permits
- Have established legal commercialization chain.