Traditionally, gold mining has been a messy, toxic business that leaves scars on the earth and mercury in the atmosphere. But the practice may get a bit cleaner with the growing Fairtrade gold certification, announced last year. successThe new standard, labeled as Fairtrade and Fairmined, sets social, environmenta,l and economic criteria to eliminate child labor, minimize or halt the use of toxic mercury and cyanide, and avoid the havoc mining usually visits upon the environment. It also aims to help the 100 million people, usually poor, who depend directly or indirectly on artisanal and small-scale gold mining with a minimum price and premium for Fairmined gold.
A handful of companies are already seeking to produce under the standard. Green Leaf Gold is among the most active, promising "jewelry that is ethically sourced and produced with no mercury or cyanide." The company says it is helping train miners to become more responsible and develop more sustainable businesses that will outlive the mine, as well as paying almost double the average salaries (about $300) to its first small mines in South America.responsibleSo far, Fairtrade gold is only coming out of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, according to Fairtrade. But within the next two years mines in Latin America, Asia, and Africa are set to join the standard, along with a growing number of retailers who sell their jewelry under the label, including Cred and Brilliant Earth.
Still, this won't make gold a "green" metal overnight. Fairtrade only covers small-scale and artisanal mining--about 15% of the global gold supply--and not the industrial-scale mines that supply the majority of the world's precious metals, so it only has a limited impact on the gold supply for now.