Comic Relief and Fairtrade have joined forces with the Dutch government to back a $15m (£11m) scheme to support ethical gold mining in east Africa after a successful pilot project in Uganda.
About a fifth of the world’s gold produced every year comes from small-scale mines where millions of people work in hazardous conditions without access to modern technology. They resort to extracting and crushing ore by hand before using water and then highly toxic mercury or cyanide to separate the gold. The ad hoc process is not only harmful for the individuals involved, some of whom are children, but pollutes their local environment. It is also highly inefficient, on average extracting only 40% of the available gold.
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Fairtrade is working with specialist mining consultancy the Dragonfly Initiative in trying to raise up to $4m in investment by 2020 from specialist environmental and social investors, government bodies and big business to help small-scale artisanal mines. Half of the funds will be loans to support investment in better technology and the other half grants to support building the organisational change necessary.
“We are trying to generate a proof of concept which has the possibility to bring economic benefits to thousands of families. We also hope over time to increase supply of Fairtrade gold,” said David Finlay of Fairtrade. At present only about 400kg of the ethical precious metal is produced ever year.
“Miners want to improve standards but it is a real struggle. They want access to finance to acquire equipment and reduce reliance on mercury and enhance the recovery of gold. There will be both an economic and environmental benefit,” Finlay said.
Using a centrifuge device, which costs about $5,000, increased the extraction rate for gold to 70% in the Uganda trial. But introducing the machinery is only part of the answer alongside supporting miners to work in a more organised and safe way.