On changes to Fairtrade’s standards, new markets and mining in Africa.
Fairtrade International chief executive Harriet Lamb talks to Professional Jewellery about recent changes to the standards for Fairtrade Gold, new markets, celebrity endorsement and Fairtrade’s work with miners in Africa.
Professional Jeweller: Fairtrade International recently launched new standards for Fairtrade precious
metals. What has changed?
Harriet Lamb: The issue of mercury is now an international concern, as the global mercury ban has come into effect. We welcome the global ban on mercury and are calling on companies to pay more for gold to enable small-scale and artisanal miners to have the resources they need to mine gold in other, safer ways. The Fairtrade standard on mercury is currently a progressive elimination of mercury from the supply chain through the incentive of an extra premium for ecological gold.
PJ: What is the next step in the process of mercury elimination?
HL: Our technical advisory group will be implementing a pilot project with our Bolivian partners Cotapata early next year, with a view to a full roll out in Africa. I would say that within two years we will have a system that removes mercury from the supply chain at the pilot phase, and is fully incorporated into our standard. The time lag is due to the harsh reality of the systemic use of mercury on the ground, the restriction of funding to speed this up and the deficit that miners face when they are not included in law changes by governments and multilateral processes.
PJ: The Fairtrade meeting in October introduced new schemes for the UK industry to use Fairtrade precious metals. What were these?
HL: The classic licensee model for Fairtrade gold as it currently stands will remain our first and main way of working, however we have outlined two new schemes. There is the Classical Licensee model whereby all operators are registered within the Fairtrade system and audited against the standards. Gold is monitored through the supply chain and the final product is certified and stamped with the Fairtrade Mark after approval. A license fee is charged based on the volume of certified product sold. This model is the preferred model wherever possible as the gold is fully traceable, and the use of the Fairtrade Mark indicates physically traceable jewellery and enables clear communication around Fairtrade gold, both of which are critical to driving awareness and building future demand for certified gold.
The second scheme is the Goldsmiths Registration and Master Licensee scheme. It was created so small boutique goldsmiths who aren’t big enough to become licensees can also participate in Fairtrade gold. It also means casters, bullion dealers or fabricators can register as a Master Licensee and can sell certified semi-finished products to small jewellers participating in the Goldsmiths Registration scheme. Final products are not certified or labelled as the gold is only physically traceable to the semi-finished product, however jewellers can make use of template communication materials and make generic claims about certified sources. The Master Licensee is responsible for reporting on volumes of Fairtrade gold sold and is charged a license fee accordingly. This option is only applicable to small jewellers buying less than 500g of gold or platinum or 2kgs of silver per annum. This will make it easier for small-volume businesses to engage with Fairtrade gold. As a chunk of the jewellery industry is made up of small designers, this model gives us the chance of having a Fairtrade gold presence on the high street.
PJ: Which is the growth market for Fairtrade gold and precious metals?
HL: The UK has led the way for Fairtrade gold, with more limited ranges available in other countries such as the Netherlands. The next major market in which we plan to launch Fairtrade gold is Switzerland, the country where people already spend the most per head on Fairtrade. For example, in Switzerland, half of all the bananas and roses sold are Fairtrade. Switzerland is also a major refining hub for gold, so we are excited about the possibilities to grow the market for Fairtrade gold there. In fact, more than 80% of the population in Europe recognise the Fairtrade Mark, this is as high as nine out of 10 people in some countries, so we have great opportunities to swing this level of public recognition behind Fairtrade gold.
PJ: How has demand for Fairtrade gold evolved in the UK this year?
HL: There is much more work to be done. We have started quite slowly as this is a whole new sector for Fairtrade, with different customers and retailers, and different ways of working. However, we have seen just how much Fairtrade gold has caught people’s attention and imagination. The public know very little about the problems with the gold industry, and when they hear of the conditions – of people burning off mercury in the open, or earning less than $1 a day, or of mine shafts with no proper supports – they are utterly shocked, and want to be part of creating change. In particular of course, people want to feel good about buying special pieces of jewellery for life events such as weddings and engagements.
In October, we held a round table with miners, gold traders and jewellers which captured great energy and excitement in the room and a renewed determination to develop Fairtrade gold in the UK. In fact, we know from our experience working with other sectors that it always takes time to build demand. For example, when we launched Fairtrade flowers, sugar and bananas, the growth was small at first and then took off as everyone from producers to retailers got the hang of this new way of working. Today 40% of all bagged sugar sold in the UK is Fairtrade, but that took time.
PJ: Do you think Fairtrade gold needs celebrity endorsement to help drive its message to the mainstream?
HL: Oh yes indeed, celebrities always bring glamorous mass appeal that is vital to ensuring more people want to buy Fairtrade gold. Several celebrities have already been involved, from Livia Firth as part of her Green Carpet Challenge, to Lisa Snowdon who has bought Fairtrade gold jewellery. More recently Hattie Rickard’s Fairtrade jewellery featured on the red carpet in Cannes. Certainly, as Fairtrade is a charity, it is sometimes easier for celebrities to support our work.
PJ: Are there any initiatives in the pipeline to raise the profile of Fairtrade precious metals?
HL: Firstly, we will be focused on getting the new standards systems working so that more traders and jewellers are buying Fairtrade gold. Then we want to keep talking to anyone and everyone who will listen. Of course, we will continue to engage the press, which ran more than 1,000 articles when we launched. We just visited a Fairtrade pilot project in Tanzania with the press, and got extensive coverage of our roundtable event, with miners from Colombia appearing on BBC radio and television. Also vital to spreading the word will be our network of grassroots campaigners, based in more than 500 Fairtrade towns, villages and even countries around the world.
PJ: Is it right that Fairtrade is now working with gold miners in Africa?
HL: Yes, that’s right. At present, we are working with Fairtrade mining groups in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. However we also have nine pilot projects funded by Comic Relief working with small-scale gold miners in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, to see how Fairtrade can make a difference. We hope to tackle the problems these miners face and hope they come into the Fairtrade system. They badly need the investment and improvements that Fairtrade can bring; at present, they barely earn enough to survive, and certainly not enough to invest in much needed yet basic health and safety equipment and procedures. That is why we are so determined to grow the market for Fairtrade, so we can support African miners and start selling their gold.
This interview was taken from the December issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.