At a special presentation from the Fairtrade Gold Foundation, a captive audience listened to Josephine Aguti, a Ugandan mine worker give a first hand account of just how bad life is for her and her family. The story is the same across the globe but, with help from Fairtrade, there is hope that jewellery buyers everywhere will start to look for the logo that means so much to the people who toil in torturous conditions. This is one woman’s story.
“My best friend’s child was born with eyes that would not stop moving, they were constantly dancing everywhere”, Josephine told us. “We thought she was just unlucky. Until the people from Fairtrade came to our mine and started to tell us about the dangers of mercury poisoning. We were shocked”.
Even though she must have told the stories a hundred times, there is real emotion in her words and you can see her reliving each experience as she tells us about life in a Ugandan gold mine.
“The pot that you collect rocks in, is the same one that you use for crushing and for swirling with a mercury solution”, said Josephine. “Then, at the end of the day, it becomes the pot you use for cooking in. It has been like this for generations, so you never question it”.
In real terms, Fairtrade gold will carry a small premium into the global market, but this is added to the raw material price. When you consider the huge mark-up that is achieved when a raw ingot is transformed into multiple pieces of crafted jewellery, then the actual increase in cost to the customer is miniscule.
But that small increase can help bring about life-changing differences to the men, women and children that are forced to work in the mines.
Five million artisanal and small-‐scale (ASM) gold miners in the African continent live a hand-to-mouth, hazardous existence, earning less than $1 a day as they seek out fragments of gold to feed their families. The majority of this mining is carried out by informal, often illegal, operations and profits are made much further up the supply chain. Regular contact with toxic chemicals used to process gold such as mercury, cyanide, and nitric acid means miners face disease, serious injury, premature births and even death.
“I started to work in the mines from the age of 12”, Josephine recalled. “My mother tried to help me get a proper education, but whenever I had spare time, I was sent down the mines”.
“Many of the shafts were very dangerous and we did not have safety equipment”, she told us. “When there was an accident, it was often fatal, with mine shafts collapsing on the workers. Many children die in these shafts every year. The problem is that when new gold is found, everyone rushes to mine it and that increases the risks”.
“The mines in our village are working toward becoming Fairtrade Gold certified right now and it will make a big difference”, she explained. “It’s not just about making sure that the miners get a bit more money. Fairtrade Gold, are also working hard to improve our way of life overall. This means a brighter future with a lot more hope, better schools for our children will change lives and All Move Well”.
The presentation also featured a showcase of precious jewellery made using Fairtrade gold and silver. Jewellery designers included CRED Jewellery, Liz Earle MBE, Anna Loucah, Sorrel Bay, Tessa Packard and the House of Eleonore Fairtrade Gold collaboration, Jon Dibben, Arctic Circle Diamonds & Sarah Jordan, Arabel Lebrusan, Mastercut Diamonds, September Rose and Hockley Mint.
TV presenter, Liz Earle MBE, was on hand to talk about her brand new range of Fairtrade Gold jewellery – ‘Fair and Fine’ a botany collection, designed by Liz and made by Cred Jewellery.
The design and lustre are as desirable as you could wish, but when you buy one of these products, you know that you are not only buying a beautiful piece that will last forever, you are also making a permanent difference to the life of a miner like Josephine and all the future generations of children that will be born into an African mining community.
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