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Tracing your gold: Fair trade activists fight for responsibly mined gold

Rock Center

Fair trade activists and jewelers are fighting for better methods to trace whether gold has been produced in artisanal mines using child labor and unsafe refining processes.

The four tons of gold found in Mali’s artisanal mines is difficult to trace once it is sold to international gold traders in places like Dubai and Switzerland. Once it reaches those international hubs, it’s often mixed with other gold before it is turned into jewelry.

Greg Valerio is a British fair trade activist and jeweler who advocates for traceable gold and responsible mining.   He worked with the Fairtrade Foundation to establish a system in England where jewelers can trace their gold.  The system went into effect this year.

“What we have done with fair trade gold in the U.K., the status quo doesn’t have to be the status quo, you can actually demonstrate traceability, from the mine to retail,” he said.

Valerio is now working with jewelers in the United States to improve the traceability of jewelry sold to American consumers.  In October, he and several U.S. jewelers met to discuss how to improve the presence of fairtrade and fairmined gold in the U.S. market.

“If you want to make a change on the ground, in continents like Africa, we have to get the Americans really engaged,” Valerio said.  “For me, so it’s an absolute no brainer…because the American consumer consumes the most amount of gold in the world.”

Valerio and U.S. jeweler Marc Choyt have founded the Fair Jewelry Action group. Choyt owns a jewelry shop called Reflective Images in Santa Fe, N.M. that sells jewelry made of recycled precious metals.  

“Absolutely dirty gold is making it into the United States and jewelers who don’t have a traceable supply chain can’t tell you where it’s coming from,” Choyt said.  “One of the biggest problems we have now is that the consumer doesn’t go into a jewelry store and ask, ‘Can you trace this gold?’  If the consumer would do that, we would see a shift in the sector.”