Mining for gold has traditionally been viewed as a toxic business that harms the environment leaving mercury and other harsh chemicals in the atmosphere. However, this view is beginning to change as gold mining practices turn to fair trade. The new fair trade standards set social, environmental, and economic measures to eliminate child labor and minimize the use of toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide. The major goal of this movement is to avoid the negative impacts that mining causes in the environment while also aiming to help the millions of people who depend on the gold mining industry for employment.
Many companies are already beginning to produce under the fair trade standard promising customers that their gold products are ethically sourced and produced with no mercury or cyanide. Training miners to become more environmentally responsible has been a key objective for fair trade companies that hope to create more sustainable business practices. After all, extending the useful life of a gold mine is not only advantageous to the environment but also to the business itself. Many fair trade gold businesses in South America are going a step further by increasing the salaries of their workers, almost doubling the previous average pay. This will dramatically help the workers and their families who depend greatly on the gold mining industry.
As of now, fair trade gold is being produced in only four countries—Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Other countries in South America have yet to join the fair trade gold movement including Venezuela who recently nationalized their gold industry. That may change within the next two years as mines in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are set to join the fair trade standard. A growing number of retailers will also join the movement by beginning to sell their gold jewelry under the fair trade label.
Turning the gold mining industry into a clean, environmentally friendly practice will not happen overnight as only 15 percent of the global gold supply is produced under fair trade. Right now, fair trade only covers small-scale mining projects and has limited impact on the world’s gold supply. New business practices need to start somewhere and the fair trade mining practice has begun nevertheless.