Gold is a timeless luxury that has been valued throughout civilization, but how many consumers know where the gold we wear comes from? Unlike most manufactured products that are at least marked with the country where it was made, it is incredibly difficult to know what path your gold has traveled to end up in a ring or a watch.
Unfortunately, almost all of the gold produced in the world is “dirty gold” – gold that is stripped from large mines using dangerous chemicals like mercury or cyanide in ways that devastate the local environment and exploits indigenous people. Worse, these methods are largely inefficient, causing gold to be wasted along with the environment and worker’s health.
Luckily there are those who have been working for years to change that, and their efforts are starting to come to fruition.
One of these is CleanGold®, a company that manufactures gold extraction technology that uses no harmful chemicals at all and works with the small-scale miner.
CleanGold® was started in 2001 by David Plath, a surfer and scientist who designed and patented the CleanGold® Prospecting Sluice. The CleanGold® Prospecting Sluice uses a specially-designed sluice that traps the dense gold particles, while a magnetic plate attracts the minerals in the sand as it shakes and forms a matrix to trap even more gold. The lighter minerals slide off and the heavy gold stays in the tray.
CleanGold requires only minimal training to use. The organization Artminers, started by CleanGold cofounder Kristina Shafer, distributes CleanGold® technology to small native miners in places such as Suriname, Peru, Madagascar, and Ghana. And the ease of use has had another effect: CleanGold has seen their sales jump this year as Americans take up gold prospecting as a recreational activity growing with the price of gold.
But if you are not inclined to find your gold yourself, you could also try Oro Verde (“Green Gold”), a gold mining corporation in ChocÃ³, Columbia. This company is the first of its kind to verify that 100% of the gold it produces is fair-trade. You can even email them to purchase raw gold directly from Oro Verde and have it shipped to you – it may not be cheap, but you will be guaranteed your gold is as environmentally-friendly as it comes.
Cred Jewellery is another option, located in England and currently the only fair-trade gold retailer in the world. Formed in 1996 by founding director Greg Valerio, the company was “inspired by the personal conviction that social entrepreneurial businesses are much better solutions to issues of poverty and injustice than charities.”
Cred Jewellry purchases gold from sources including Oro Verde, and also through the Ethical Bullion Company that sells gold from cooperatives in Bolivia, Columbia, and Peru that work with the Association for Responsible Mining.
While it was not easy to get ethical, fair-trade jewelry on the market (taking 8 years to actually produce their first wedding ring), the company is now branching out, even establishing retailers in the United States, which should be operating by mid-2009.
“We care about gold from the mining to the luxury product, and nobody has ever challenged the dominant narrative before, everyone just assumes it can only be done the way it has been done,” says Mr. Valerio.
He adds a final comment, “If a consumer asked their jewelry retailer, ‘Where does your gold come from?’, I’d be surprised if they could answer.”
By Carly Dobbins-Bucklad