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Moving overseas? Critical reflections on the implementation of Latin American ethical gold schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa

Hilson, GM and McQuilken, J (2016) Moving overseas? Critical reflections on the implementation of Latin American ethical gold schemes in Sub-Saharan Africa In: Mining in Latin America: Critical Approaches to the New Extraction. Routledge Studies of the Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development (10). Routledge, pp. 184-210. ISBN 978-1138921672

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In April 2013, it was announced that Fair Trade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)1 were not going to renew their working agreement. For nearly a decade, the former, a Bonn-based umbrella body which coordinates the efforts of 20 national Fairtrade bodies, was courted by the latter, a Colombia-headquartered NGO, to certify its Standard Zero for Fair Trade Artisanal Gold and Associated Silver and Platinum, a blueprint of ethical standards for small-scale gold mines.2 Following several revisions, the FLO-endorsed Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold Standards emerged. They were officially unveiled in March 2010 in London, where they were portrayed as an intervention capable of connecting disempowered artisanal miners to Western jewellers. The work undertaken by ARM officials to bring the Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold Standards to fruition has become a story of legend in mining and development circles. Propelled by the initiative, drive and tireless efforts of a former director, the organisation quickly mobilised a panel of experts in 2006. As Echavarria (2008) explains, members of the ‘technical committee’ assembled were then asked to review the key components – ‘subject areas’ – of the initial draft of Standard Zero: health and safety, environmental management, gender, child labour, sustainable livelihoods, governance, formalisation and marketing. A second comprehensive review of Standard Zero took place in early-2007 in Lima, Peru, where the technical committee collated feedback from workshops, attended by a combined 300 participants, held across South America and Africa. The revised Standard Zero that emerged followed the typical Fairtrade grouping of social, labour, economic and environmental development criteria. In a sector – i.e., mining – that has long been marred by exploitation, environmental destruction and social ills, the Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold Standards provided a much-needed ‘feel good’ story. From the beginning, the blueprint was skillfully marketed, at times overzealously, as a ‘pro-poor’ intervention. The message conveyed to the general public was that Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold is being sourced from vulnerable people engaged in small-scale mining. As reported by one widely-read magazine: "For the first time, consumers now have the opportunity to buy jewellery that is Fairtrade and Fairmined certified, and this is a hugely important step for the industry. To achieve this guarantee, standards have been determined by Fairtrade International (FLO) and the Colombia-based Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), with the aim of empowering artisanal and small scale miners to achieve a fair price for their work …, [certification which] not only addresses working conditions and environmental responsibility but drives improvements in living conditions and prospects for whole communities" (Zukin 2014). Ethical jewellery – rings, necklaces and other wear fabricated using precious metals and stones that have been sourced responsibly – has, indeed, captured the public’s imagination in recent years. In addition to there being tens of thousands of conscious consumers, a range of celebrities are now seen wearing ‘ethical jewellery,’ which innovative marketing campaigns have drawn enormous attention to. In the case of Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold, fanfare and intrigue surrounding its perceived impact began to escalate following the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony, at which the first piece of certified jewellery was worn by Livia Firth, wife of Oscar winner Colin Firth (Firth 2011). The announcement of the ARM-Fairtrade divorce caused considerable stir among ethical consumers, jewellers and campaigners, many of whom feared that the move would derail the ethical gold movement effort entirely. The split itself was over ‘mass balancing’ (Choir 2013). ARM was pushing to certify ‘diluted’ product, its management clearly having entrepreneurial aspirations from the outset and likely tiring from masquerading as an NGO-type organisation. It suggests as much on its website, reporting that ‘The partnership between ARM and Fairtrade brought both great success and some important lessons … [but that the] speed of change happening in the ethical gold market, led ARM and Fairtrade International to believe that greater opportunities for miners may be achieved by working independently and therefore decided not to renew the partnership on Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold in 2013’ (ARM, n.d.). For FLO, ‘mass balancing’ was not an option.3 Its officials presumably viewed the move as a departure from the original objectives of Fairtrade/Fairmined gold. In ARM’s defence, however, FLO, buoyed by the billions of dollars in sales from its flagship agricultural projects, has the luxury of being able to wait patiently for new supplies of certified gold to be identified and brought to market. In response to the announcement, an open letter was sent to Fairtrade and ARM, signed by 140 parties scattered across seven countries. The signatories, including jewellers and license holders, made it clear that they do not want Mining_in_Latin_America_Ch10_1pp.indd 185 26/03/16 9:49 AM 186 Gavin Hilson and James McQuilken ‘mass-balancing,’ and demanded ‘a Fairtrade Gold product that is both traceable from source and socially empowering for small-scale mining communities’ (Miller et al., n.d.). But the petition failed to prevent the split, and in 2013, the separate Fairtrade Standard for Gold and Associated Precious Metals for Artisanal and Small Scale Mining and Fairmined Standard for Gold from Artisanal and Small- Scale Mining, Including Associated Precious Metals were launched by FLO and ARM, respectively. Despite their initial objections, a number of retailers have since embraced the latter’s ‘mass balanced’ product, in large part because of the acute shortage of certifiable, traceable precious mineral stock available on the market. But by openly expressing their concerns over the split between FLO and ARM possibly removing the ‘Fair’ from Fair Trade, many retailers have revealed how committed they are to responsible sourcing. This is particularly the case with the owners of boutique-type organisations, many of whom have been energised by the ethical minerals movement and growing consumer expectations for jewellers to work with metals that are traceable. Yet, at the same time, the petition exposed how little knowledge jewellers have of small-scale mining and gold production overall. Despite claims which may suggest otherwise, Fairtrade and Fairmined projects are not ‘pro-poor’ interventions capable of having transformative impacts on local livelihoods and lifting the masses out of poverty. As Hilson (2014) explains, in the absence of set criteria concerning what ‘ethical minerals’ mean, as well as guidelines on how to devise schemes which mirror flagship agricultural certification projects, many organisations have found themselves manoeuvring in a sizable policy ‘space,’ in which they have been able to conceive, largely pressure-free, their own definitions of ‘Fair.’ On the one hand, in devising schemes that are nowhere close to being ‘pro-poor,’ both ARM and FLO, along with Solidaridad, a Dutch NGO which these organisations often called upon to assist with training, implementation and certification, could be seen as being opportunistic, recognising the sizable scar on the jeweller’s conscience and responding very innovatively to the growing desperation to source precious minerals that are conflict-free and traceable. On the other hand, because the livelihoods dimension of small-scale mining barely registers on the global extractive industries and development agenda, the design and implementation of any ‘pro-poor’ ethical mineral scheme promises to be exceptionally challenging. This chapter critically reflects on these issues at a time when ARM and FLO are working diligently to expand their work into sub-Saharan Africa. Looking to build upon their experiences in Latin America, both organisations have piloted projects across sub-Saharan Africa, with the aim of connecting jewellers to its small-scale gold miners. If, however, the primary objective of the move is to develop ‘pro-poor’ interventions capable of having transformative impacts on rural livelihoods, then efforts aimed at ‘scaling up’ ethical gold production must also emphasise some ‘scaling down:’ specifically, targeting and reaching the smallest operators who are typically excluded from development interventions. In sub- Saharan Africa, this has its own unique challenges. capable of alleviating hardships in impoverished areas of the developing world.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects : Sustainability
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Surrey Business School
Authors :
Hilson, GM
McQuilken, J
Editors :
Deonandan, K
Date : 25 July 2016
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2016 – Routledge
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 21 Nov 2016 13:44
Last Modified : 31 Oct 2017 18:57

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