Fair mined and fair traded gemstones are a very timely topic these days within the jewelry industry and not just with us designers and metalsmiths. For example, many millennials have decided that only lab grown diamonds meet their requirements for fair traded and conflict free diamonds. Fair traded stands for the support of small scale artisanal mining where the miners receive a living wage for their work, they have safe work conditions and gender equality. While this is a huge topic too complex to cover in just one blog post let me ask my dear readers a question: Do you know that gold is recovered with elemental mercury? Cyanide is also used for leaching the gold from ore, concentrate and tailings? Does this alarm you at all? Allow me to explain why it is so serious and why this is an issue of fair mined metals and gemstones.
In many developing parts of the world, small scale artisanal miners recover the gold with elemental mercury. It is mixed with gold-containing materials, forming a mercury-gold amalgam which is then heated, vaporizing the mercury to obtain the gold. When the mercury is released into the air or water, very bad things happen. Mercury is a neurotoxin that has very bad effects on our nervous systems and organs. It also has very negative effects on the biodiversity of the planet. Fortunately, there is a way to obtain the gold without the mercury. There are six gravity concentration methods: panning, sluicing, shaking tables, spiral concentrators, vortex concentrators and centrifuges. The two other concentration methods are magnets and flotation.
As a jewelry designer and metalsmith very concerned about sustainability issues, ELJD has made the decision to only purchase new gold from Harmony Metals, a fair mined third party-certified source for clean gold. Additionally, all gems are also fair mined and fair traded also from third party certified suppliers These are terms have have some overlapping among them, but I will explain them.
Fair mined has three different components; environmental, ethics and human rights. Environmental refers to the local environment being protected. Since water is used in the washing of rough gemstones, a mine that has fair mined certification will have a ground water and seepage barrier in place. An ethical mine does not have any slave or child labor. From a human rights standpoint, this means that the supply chain to bring the gems from mine to market is conflict free. An example of non-conflict free would be the diamonds mined in Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of the Congo and used by rebels or drug traffickers to either purchase armaments or to launder drug money.Fair-traded also covers the areas of the environment, human rights and ethics but in a different way. From an ethical and human rights standard, fair traded means that the miners receive a fair-wage and health care as well as humane living conditions at the mine site. From an environmental standard, it means that the mine, once it is closed, is not just left as an empty hole in the ground. It specifically means that the mining company has paid a special fee into an escrow account to the government with an environmental rehabilitation plan to restore the natural habitat to the local mining area. This is done before a license is even issued. The last important component for a fair traded gem or metal has to do with the actual markets where artisanal or small scale miners sell their rough product. Here, fair traded means that the miners have access to trade with producers to whom they would otherwise be excluded in the market place. For example, women miners of Moyo Gems in Tanzania now receive 95% of the wholesale price for their gems. Obviously, this makes a huge difference in term of income for them and their families.
Fair mined and fair traded are huge topics but necessary ones in these times of climate change and degradation to such vital areas such as the Amazon. I invite all my customers and blog readers to do research and engage in conversations with your local jewelers.
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