First batch of African Fairtrade gold arrives in the UK

Fairtrade has announced the first ever shipment of certified African Fairtrade gold into the UK, in a move backed by Philips that could unlock new ethical sourcing opportunities for businesses ranging from jewellers to tech specialists.

The first grains of African Fairtrade gold were revealed during the Fairtrade Foundation conference at the Goldsmiths centre in London on Thursday (21 September). Fairtrade has announced that it will commence support for small scale mine sites in East Africa, to help them access international markets by boosting the transparency of the gold supply chain.

Fairtrade’s chief executive Michael Gidney said: “These first pioneering grains of gold I am showing you today symbolise so much. They represent safer working conditions, hope, and better lives for miners who struggle to put food on their table each day.

“We use gold for so much, from mobile phones, medical devices, and computers to medals and luxury jewellery. Gold not only symbolises prosperity and luxury but also has the potential to create economic security in all the lives it touches. This is all about the people of the land benefitting from their resources that are in that land. It is economic, social and environmental justice for the poor.”

Gold is largely considered a conflict mineral, meaning that the mining process is often linked to armed forces who use the revenue from sales to finance their operations. In Uganda, 130,000 people are employed through small-scale gold-mining and a further 800,000 benefit indirectly.

Despite these artisanal gold minders producing enough gold for 82 million mobile phones, most of it is mined or exported illegally. The exploitation of this practice also leads to competition for land use, smuggling, environmental damage, child labour and human rights abuses.

The first formal “trade” of the African gold, sourced from Uganda, will officially take place in October through purchases from CRED Jewellers, which will be supported by the Environmental Women in Action for Development (EWAD). A select number of items consisting of the Fairtrade gold are expected to go on sale in time for Christmas.

Fairtrade also announced that Fairphone, the company behind the remanufactured and modular mobile phones, and Philips will both support the initiative. Launching fully in 2018 and funded by the Dutch government, the partnership will assist small-scale gold mines across Busia and Uganda.

As part of the launch, Fairtrade also unveiled a new Investment Facility to boost access to finance for small-scale gold miners. It is hoped the investment will lead to cleaner and more efficient gold processing equipment that will reduce reliance on mercury.

Mind the mine

Tech companies have previously been warned that they may be exposed to human rights violations in supply chains by failing to examine the “myriad of risks” that can be found outside of the traditional homes of conflict minerals.

An Al Jazeera report highlights the severity of this situation. The report reviewed 147 companies that submitted conflict mineral reports in 2014 (the first year that certain companies were required to do so). However, it found that more than two thirds of companies could not identify the source of the minerals in their products.

American technology giant Intel was one of the first to achieve a “conflict-free” supply chain in 2016 for both products and packages shipped by the firm. Fellow tech giant Apple is also in the process of creating a conflict-free supply chain – the company released a report last year tracking the progress it is making.

In fact, Apple pledged to “go deeper” in developing new products that promote the circular economy, by using only renewable resources or recycled materials that negate the need to mine materials.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie