Much less is known about the origin of gold than about the origin of clothing, coffee or chocolate, even though gold lasts most people a lifetime. It is time to put Fairtrade gold on the map.
Fairtrade goldsmith Juffrouw Dubois (professional pseudonym of Sanne de Vries) is one of about 100 Fairtrade goldsmiths in the Netherlands. She has a studio in Utrecht with fellow goldsmith Jet Bartman: together they form the pair Jet & de Juffrouw. Most remarkable at first sight is the sentence on the door that states: 2 Fairtrade edelsmeden (silver-and goldsmiths). Because we have all seen Tony Chocolonely bars and Fairtrade coffee in the supermarket. But Fairtrade gold?
This, then, is the question we depart from. Why is the origin of gold not discussed more? Firstly, Dubois explains, transferring from regular gold to fair gold is not an easy move. Fairtrade gold and especially silver have only been available in the Netherlands for a short time (silver since one year). Moreover, transferring to Fairtrade is not a commercial move. Unlike Fairtrade items that you see in the supermarket, gold does not have such an obvious commercial podium. Besides that, more tools, time, and proficiency are required for the forging of Fairtrade gold. “The material requires more time and expertise. It is almost like you are making your practice more old-fashioned”, the goldsmith explains. Thus, concessions have to be made. Fairtrade gold is not available in as many forms as “regular” gold, so that can compromise the design. Stones, for example are not available in Fairtrade form in the Netherlands either. In this way, a choice has to be made in some cases between the design and the message. Choosing for Fairtrade often stems from an intrinsic motivation, and not a commercial one.
For Juffrouw Dubois, simultaneously forging jewellery and a better world comes naturally. She describes a consciousness of the world in combination with an enthusiasm for doing the right thing, both instilled in her from a young age, as her ever-present sources for her Fairtrade practice. Her jewellery is available in Fairtrade form, unless explicitly discussed otherwise. Dubois perceives it as the drawback of her profession that she conserves certain practices by continuing to use gold. Because gold is a dirty business: think of dangerous mines, forest clearing, pollution through the use of mercury and cyanide, and child labour. The most difficult part about the gold origin for Dubois, who also worked as a goldsmith in Nicaragua, is the impact that gold has on its direct habitat. For the people who work in a goldmine, the work they do to sustain them and their families now has an impact for generations to come: polluted water for example poisons a community’s food supply and causes health problems. “This is the case for an enormous amount of people. There are 20 million mineworkers, and 100 million people worldwide are financially dependent on gold.” For Dubois it has thus become a responsibility, by using gold, to use it in a sustainable way for all parties involved.
Dubois perceives the way to a better life for these workers threefold. Professionals can tell consumers about the origin of the gold they are interested in; professionals can urge their colleagues to use Fairtrade gold; and professionals can ask questions to suppliers. Asking questions and talking about the option of Fairtrade gold is a very important first step, because it creates awareness. Creating awareness in combination with her Fairtrade practice is what the goldsmith thinks she can contribute. Increasingly, recycled gold is also mentioned as a solution to problems in the gold mining sector. “Using gold from recycled material is a good step, but it does not change the situation locally in the gold mines.” Moreover, it can be hard to trace how recycled some gold really is, since the material can be melted. Therefore, Dubois advocates transparency of recycled material and policy and examinations of the mining industry.
For an independent artisan goldsmith, a switch to fair trade gold might feel like a drop in the ocean. But the establishment of the Fairtrade mark for gold is a huge start, and it is not the only possibility. Fairmined is another assurance label that certifies fair gold. For Juffrouw Dubois, Fairtrade is a choice that was embedded in her long ago. By showcasing beautiful jewellery of which she is also not afraid to look into its origin, she is slowly changing the course gold has been on for a long time.