Golden Death or Fair Trade Opportunity?
"I often have a headache, and I am weak. I have a bitter taste in my mouth."
(Fahrul Raji, 30 year old gold miner)
According to Linda Pressly of Radio 4's "Crossing Continents", the extraction of gold comes at a human price:
"About 15% of the world's gold is produced by artisanal and small-scale miners, most of whom use mercury to extract it from the earth. In Indonesia, the industry supports some three million people - but the miners risk poisoning themselves, their children and the land."
A study has shown that people like Mr Raji are being slowly poisoned by mercury over the years. Dr Stephan Bose-O'Reilly, who has been studying the industry, says that he shows the typical symptoms of mercury intoxication, as well as a tremor and poor coordination.
As Linda Pressly notes – "Mercury use in small-scale gold mining in Indonesia is illegal, but miners still use it to extract gold from the rock or soil."
And the situation globally is just as bad – "There are an estimated 10-15 million unregulated gold miners around the world, operating in 70 countries. Artisanal small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the largest source of mercury pollution in the world after the burning of fossil fuels."
What is alarming is that there seems to be no consideration of this kind of provenance of gold when it is purchased. I have been looking over a presentation by Goldcore, international bullion dealers written by Mark O'Byrne. There is a good deal about ensuring that the gold comes from legitimate sources, and that the gold meets standards of purity, but not a word about how the gold is mined.
It is very similar to buying crystals, which are very popular as New Age artefacts for "crystal healing" etc. I've seen crystals for sale, and asked about the provenance, to ensure that they were not obtained by strip-mining, which damages the environment very badly, and no one can tell me.
Likewise, it is considered unimportant that the gold may have been obtained by the use of mercury, or by mining extraction that damages the environment or harms workers in industry. But there is a silver lining in the cloud.
Toby Pomeroy is a jeweller who is a world leader in environmentally sustainable and socially responsible jewellery, and he keeps an eye on global best practice. He notes that:
"Fair Jewellery Action (FJA) is a Human Rights and Environmental Justice Organization within the jewellery sector. FJA's objective is to direct more of the economic impact of the jewellery sector for the regenerating of local economies, in support of cultural preservation and environmental sustainability."
"FJA is a program launched in the UK and USA by Fairtrade jewellers and ethical jewellery advocates Greg Valerio and Marc Choyt. Greg has been a pioneer and foundational to the international development and realization of fair trade jewellery and traceable supply chains from mine to retail."
In 2011, a South American gold mining cooperative in Cotapata, Bolivia became the first ever Certified Fairtrade gold mine in the world. Commenting on this at the time, and the importance of Fairtrade in Gold, Toby notes:
"Distinct from any time before, people now will be able to purchase jewellery they can fully cherish and be proud of where it came from and what it represents, jewellery created from gold that has been independently certified to have been mined and processed in a socially and environmentally responsible manner where the miners have been paid a premium for their stewardship of the land and for developing model, sustainable communities."
The OECD is supporting this initiative and notes that "These gold standards enable organised ―Artisanal and Small-scale Miners' Organisations to use the Fairtrade and Fairmined marks on certified gold products.... Certified miners, as ASMOs, must employ safe and responsible practices to manage dangerous chemicals involved in gold recovery, such as mercury and cyanide."
Have any Jersey jewellery shops looked at Fairtrade Jewellery Action? And if not, why not? There is an opportunity to make a difference by both retailer and buyer, and improve the lot of miners in the field of gold extraction.
The BBC reports on the sad demise of two guard dogs: "The Ministry of Defence has defended a decision to put down two guard dogs used to protect the Duke of Cambridge, days after he left his military base. The Sun reported the dogs were put down following Prince William's final shift as a search-and-rescue pilot at RAF Valley, in Anglesey, last week. The MoD said it always tried to rehome dogs but that it had not been possible in this case. The patrol dogs were said to have been part of a unit providing extra security at RAF Valley and were not providing sole protection for the duke."
What seems exceptionally callous is the reasoning given for killing the dogs.
"Belgian shepherd Brus was at the end of his working life and Blade, a German shepherd, had "behavioural issues", said the MoD."
I do wonder how much effort was made here. It seems quite possible for the dogs to be retired elsewhere and cared for after they have been used for a long time? This is very much what the charity Dog Action Trust is saying – "we would have hoped that the loyalty the dogs had shown their handlers during their working life was reciprocated at the time of their retirement". Instead, it seems that the dogs are "treated as kit that can be decommissioned".
The departure of the Duke of Cambridge appears to be coincidental, according to the MoD, and it does raise another question. Perhaps these dogs being put down became such a high profile news event because of that coincidence of events, and one wonders how many guard dogs are rehomed, and how many we never hear about are simply killed off when they "reach the end of their working lives".
The Glamour of Electoral Reform
And as the Liberal Democrats Conference comes to an end, it is perhaps worth looking at a lighter moment. Forget all the big conferences speeches, Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and head instead to Andy McSmith's Lib Dem Conference Diary in the Independent.
The fringe meetings are often more interesting than the main events, which the media have described as dull, apart from Vince Cable rattling a few cages. Instead, consider the Electoral Reform Society's meeting which looked, on the face of it, a rather glamorous event. Alas, it was not to be, as Any McSmith explains
"The Electoral Reform Society ought to be reported to the Advertising Standards Authority for the leaflet it distributed on Monday, advertising a fringe meeting headed "From Borgen to Britain: a how-to guide to coalition government", adorned by a picture of Borgen's star, Sidse Babett Knudsen."
"Those who piled in for a glimpse of the gorgeous Danish actress were confronted with a panel of speakers whose only Scandinavian representative was a bald, bespectacled Swede named Magnus Wallera, a functionary employed in the Prime Minister's office, whose talk was as flat as his skull was round."
Perhaps they thought they had to "spice up" the event to get anybody along to hear Mr Wallera!
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