Africa has long had a reputation for dirty gold. This country has the world’s largest gold deposits, and the gold industry’s history in this country is legendary for its cruelty, and its polluting practices.
But I’m happy to report that slowly, this is starting to change. According to an article published in The Guardian, Fair Trade International just announced that 12 mines in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya are on track to produce the country’s first ethical gold within the next year.
This is a groundbreaking announcement on many levels. And it helps to first understand a small part of why producing gold “the old fashioned way” is cruel to both people and planet.
To get pure gold, many villagers burn mercury with charcoal and gold flakes. The mercury is vaporized, which leaves the gold behind. The problem is that as liquid mercury burns, it sends off waves of toxic fumes, which are then inhaled by the villagers. There are no official figures of how many people are poisoned by these toxic fumes, but sickness, memory problems, and vision problems are common in these areas.
And, this is just one small problem with the gold industry. Appalling working conditions, child labor, and an incredibly polluted environment all result from the dirty gold industry.
Here’s another example. In many mines, highly toxic cyanide is used to remove gold from low-grade ore. This job is done by women, who often have a child sitting on their knee while they work. This cyanide ends up the rivers or local watershed where it pollutes people and planet alike.
Stop and think about this situation. Would you want your child breathing in cyanide like this? Of course, all of us are appalled at the very idea. But this is the way of life in Tanzania. Even if you don’t work in the mines, you’re still consuming toxic chemicals because so many of them end up in the water, which is a scarce and precious resource in this country.
Workers within the mines, primarily men (and often children,) often work 24 hours shifts without shifts, helmets, or any other safety equipment.
This is why forward progress towards ethical gold is so incredible. In Tanzania, over 15 million people work in the gold mines. Any movements towards an elimination of child labor, and more human working practices, are going to impact a lot of people.
I stopped buying “new” gold years ago because I have no desire to support an industry that treats our people and planet with such disregard, and I encourage you to do the same. Here in this country, we would be outraged if a company did this…there would be boycotts and protests until these practices were stopped.
I’m excited and encouraged that these mining companies are taking the first steps towards humane and ethical working conditions. But it’s still up to us not to support mines who aren’t willing to take these steps.
Filed under: Fair Trade News on September 12th, 2013