Positioned as one of Fairtrade’s ‘greatest opportunities’, artisanal and small- scale gold mining enters a new era in 2015 with the launch of Fairtrade gold from East Africa. Kathryn Bishop delves into this new source of gold, industry opinion and the commercial opportunities for the UK trade.
Stepping out of a minibus and on to the deep, ochrehued earth of the Nsangano gold mine in Geita, Tanzania, our group exchanged quiet declarations of intrigue, taking in the sounds, sights and smells that surrounded us. Our journey to the mine had begun 36 hours before at Heathrow Airport and now, 10,200km later, we were here.
Nsangano, a family-run gold mine first established in 1989, is one of nine artisanal and small-scale gold mines in East Africa that were part of a threeyear pilot project led by the Fairtrade Foundation and Comic Relief. With just over £800,000 of funding split between the mines to jumpstart their journey to Fairtrade accreditation, Nsangano and two other locations are now prepped for official Fairtrade status as of early September 2015. From then on, they will be supplying Fairtrade gold from East Africa to the UK market.
Eighteen people visited the mine from the UK, representing the jewellery industry and the British and East African media, including Judith Lockwood and Gary Wroe of Arctic Circle and Hockley Mint, goldsmith Sarel du Plessis of Swag and Alan Frampton of CredJewellery.
For Lockwood and Wroe, the trip was their first encounter with a mine that will provide Fairtrade accredited gold for Canadian diamond brand Arctic Circle and Jewellery Quarter manufactory Hockley Mint — businesses they both represent.
As managing director of Arctic Circle, Judith Lockwood is assertive in telling the story of her brand, its origins, support and employment of local Aboriginal communities in Canada’s north-western territories. But the trip to Tanzania brings a new angle to Arctic Circle and how she and her team will promote its credentials to current and future retail customers. “The difference now is in the footage and photographs that we have; it’s the raw emotion and knowing that you travelled for days to get to the mine, experiencing the heat and the weather and the environment that the mine workers have on a daily basis in working to bring this gold to market. It’s a story that’s absolutely compelling.”
A GUT INSTINCT
Arguably, many retailers in the UK industry still consider Fairtrade gold ‘niche’ — something they aren’t asked for, but in return probably aren’t telling their customers about either. Yet for the likes of Lockwood and Wroe, and the 200 or so other designers and brands opting to work in Fairtrade metals, the decision to use Fairtrade is the first step in bringing the metal and its cause to the masses.
Hockley Mint managing director Gary Wroe first started working with Fairtrade gold four years ago, following its UK inauguration in 2011. “I felt it was right, it was about the heart, mind, stomach,” he says. “It was a gut feeling that this is something we should be doing.”
Now he’s returned from the 30 degree heat of Tanzania and has had time to digest and reflect on what he’s seen, Wroe says he is ready to ‘beat the drum’ about Fairtrade: “Living the experience of going out to Tanzania to see the Fairtrade mines, we’ll educate our staff [about the trip] and then roll out the message even further to customers and consumers to push Fairtrade metals and make a difference to these people lives.”
The same message is also being promoted by UK buying group, The Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ). From September onwards, should a retailer order any gold Mastercut engagement or wedding ring – a brand exclusive to
The CMJ – the design will automatically be crafted in Fairtrade metal, whether a customer order or for stock. Willie Hamilton, chief executive of The CMJ, has been championing Fairtrade metals for a number of years, similarly visiting a Tanzanian mine in 2014, and returning committed to make a difference from the very base of the buying group. “I immediately held a meeting with the key decision makers at our main gold ring suppliers and highlighted that they could solve a significant number of the issues within the supply chain by investing in Fairtrade metals,” Hamilton recalls. “[As] The CMJ was asking its suppliers to use Fairtrade, we had to lead the way with Mastercut.”
Cred Jewellery managing director Alan Frampton states that the company, which is known for its ethical jewellery and bridal collections, has not used anything other than Fairtrade gold for its own products since its UK launch in 2011. “Our customers want to know that the gold in their wedding ring or engagement ring has been produced responsibly and exactly which mine it comes from,” he states. “The modern consumer is asking this question about more and more purchases: food, clothes and now jewellery. How can anyone sell a wedding ring – a symbol of love and devotion– without knowing how its been produced?”
He affirms: “There is no doubt in my mind that it will be the default position of brides buying their rings within three years across the country.”
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
It’s clear the positive story of Fairtrade metals goes hand-in-hand with that of marriage and love, making bridal jewellery a natural fit for the metals. In fact, the humble wedding band has been the focus of a major Fairtrade Foundation push to promote Fairtrade gold to consumers. Earlier this year much press attention was paid to the launch of the Fairtrade Foundation’s ‘I Do’ campaign. The aim? To get 50,000 couples (equating to, ideally, 100,000 rings) buying Fairtrade gold wedding bands.
But demand also comes from more than just 100% Fairtrade gold rings. While they might not know it, some consumers are already wearing wedding bands containing Fairtrade metals, through a process known as ‘mass balancing’, whereby Fairtrade gold is combined with ‘traditional’ or recycled gold in jewellery production. A number of leading high street jewellery retailers in the UK are using mass balancing, though they are opting not to promote their use of Fairtrade metals.
However it’s not just about bridal; as the new collection from Arctic Circle proves, there is also a call for ‘daywear’ jewellery with an ethical edge. “To celebrate the fact we’re going to be one of the very first businesses to have access to the African Fairtrade gold, we’re working with British designer Sarah Jordan to create a range of daywear jewellery made using the gold,” says Lockwood.
The new collection will launch at IJL with the working title Northern Lights, giving explanation to its inspiration. “The reason for daywear rather than bridal is so women can celebrate buying a piece of jewellery for herself, to wear everyday,” Lockwood adds. “The designs will touch commercial price points and be very different to what Arctic Circle is known for at present.”
Commercial designs provide a conduit to place Fairtrade metals in the hands of a much wider audience. With independent retailers such as Wongs, Clifton Rocks, The Ringmaker and Bensons of Ludlow part of the Goldsmiths Registration Scheme – enabling them to use cer- tain amounts of Fairtrade metals each year – there lies the opportunity for collections to be hitting the shelves of independent retailers.
Sarel du Plessis, designer and master goldsmith at Swag Jewellers, was also part of the trip to Tanzania. He hoped to find out more about the work Fairtrade does with the miners and opportunities for Swag to get on board with Fairtrade. Recalling both the informal small-scale mines and the effect of Fairtrade’s involvement at Nsangano, he notes: “Being able to compare the working environment of traditional small-scale mines to the changes that have been made at the Nsangano mine with the help of Fairtrade, I realised the importance of supporting that part of our supply chain. We are hoping to produce all our bespoke designs using Fairtrade gold.”
Despite evidence of growing interest from retailers up and down the UK, a number still have concerns about Fairtrade, owing to misinformation. A widely held view is that there is not enough Fairtrade gold to be support larger jewellery production. While supply chains are still small scale – the African mines produce about 20kg of gold per year at present, while the more established Peruvian mines bring 700kg to surface – the likes of Cred Jewellery have been able to produce continuous collections in Fairtrade metals for several years.
There are also questions surrounding which metals can be produced and certified as Fairtrade. Presently, gold the main precious metal product of Fairtrade mining, and this can be refined into yellow, white and rose gold, while Fairtrade silver and Fairtrade platinum are by-products of gold mining (mostly in Peru), with steady supply of each metal available to UK designers and retailers.
Of course, it is also about keeping the message front of mind, even for those jewellers that are traditionally looking for the biggest returns from branded silver or unbranded gold jewellery. Hamilton says: “Retailers need to overcome their apathy and be at the forefront of bringing Fairtrade to the consumer, while manufacturers can make a market for Fairtrade, including it in all of their production and using Fairtrade as a USP in the UK to fight world wide competition.”
Indeed, statistics show that, while the Fairtrade label is recognised by about 85% of consumers, only 3% know that Fairtrade gold exists. Yet, of the 12 markets where Fairtrade metals are currently available, the UK leads in terms of full licensees – 60 in total, including the likes of Hockley Mint, Domino, Beaverbrooks and Stephen Webster – and 110 goldsmiths registered to use the metals as part of the Goldsmiths Registration Scheme. Later this year, the US, Germany and Austria will come on board, with Italy positioned to launch Fairtrade gold in the near future.
Weighing up the industry’s reaction and plans to keep driving Fairtrade metals to his customers, Wroe declares: “It’s down to us to make the difference, down to us the keep beating the drum and getting that message out there. The more people that we can get involved in Fairtrade gold the more of a difference we can make. I’d like Hockley Mint to become an ambassador for Fairtrade gold and keep banging that drum.”
Echoing this, Hamilton asserts: “We need to start the move throughout the UK as the UK consumer leads the way on so many of the ethical markets we now take for granted. I cannot see any reason why precious metals should be any different.”