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The ecological and fairtrade gold rush

Gold mining gives work to 15 million miners and supports more than 60 million people. It is located in some 50 countries, particularly in regions that are among the poorest in the world.

The history of gold mining is, unfortunately not brilliant: civil wars, corruption, and human rights abuses have often tarnished the brilliance of the most beautiful jewels. Even today, the exploitation of minors and child labor are commonplace and the environmental degradation colossal. Releases of mercury, cyanide, and other toxic substances cause severe pollution to the air, soil, and water. Extraction techniques are rudimentary and working conditions often dangerous. Faced with these major ecological and humanitarian issues, solutions have been sought. Despite their higher production costs, ethical gold and recycled gold are beginning to make their voices heard and it is the entire market - including designers, distributors, and clients - that is now ready to support change.


A golden ethic

The Fairmined label, created by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) in 2007, certifies responsible mining companies applying drastic ecological, human and social standards. This label guarantees the origin of an "ethical" gold extracted from mines that have begun a process of transformation towards eco-responsible progress.

How does the label really work? Reserved for artisanal mining, it prohibits child labor, slavery, participation in the financing of armed conflicts; it also guarantees the traceability of gold and satisfactory working conditions for miners. It provides for a bonus of 4000 dollars per kilo of gold to be returned to them - assigned to their safety, improving the daily lives of workers or their social community, as school equipment for their children. Ecologically, it sets very strict criteria for the protection of soil, for example by prohibiting the use of mercury or cyanide for extraction or use in a closed circuit.

The Fairmined label has been awarded to a dozen mines around the world to date (in South America and Mongolia). About fifty of them are currently in the process of being certified.

Fairmined audits and certifies all the aspects of the sector, from the mine to the finished product while ensuring its traceability and the criteria set up. Some of our designers have started using Fairmined gold in their jewelry, including Annette Ferdinandsen and Pippa Small, who uses it for her Bolivian collection.

In parallel with the label, other initiatives are developing. In Thailand, where gold mining has caused several environmental and human disasters (for example, the village of Na Nong Bong whose demonstrations were violently reprimanded by the exploiting company, see Reuters article), the pressure of associations led to the closure of all polluting mining operations in the country in 2017. Today, only artisanal operations that do not use cyanide or mercury are allowed. Much of the jewelry in the White Bird collection is made in Thailand with gold from these mines.


Recycled gold

According to the World Gold Council, recycled gold accounted for one-third of global gold resources in 2015. 90% comes from jewelry and 10% from electronic components.

Recycled gold is of quality strictly equal to that of gold extracted from mines, but does not cause the ecological degradation of the latter. In theory, it would be quite possible to stem gold mining by using only recycled gold. Aware that precious metals may have a second life, perhaps richer than the first, our designers have also embarked on the path of recycled gold. Since 1989, Cathy Waterman has only used recycled gold and platinum, making her a pioneer in the field. Brooke Gregson stores 40% of his creations. Jo Hayes ward, Karen Liberman, Disa Allsopp, Ruth Tomlinson, Sia Taylor, and Sophie Buhai also use mainly recycled precious metals and recycle their gold scrap.

At White Bird, we invite our clients to give their old jewelry new life. We carry out tailor-made projects, in our workshops, to create new jewelry from old pieces.

World Gold Council:

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