In the Pursuit of “Fair Gold” Amanda Li Hope Leads the WayThe “ethical gold” initiative is a challenge to the formidable machine of the bullion industry that is set in its medieval ways. Independent designers such as Amanda Li Hope are taking up the challenge personally.
The gold-mining town of Relave in southern Peru is a typical example of any of the hundreds of similar run-down mining towns in the South American country that is the world’s sixth-largest gold exporter. The environmental and human toll is particularly high in these places and has become the source of concern for many independent jewellery designers such as Amanda Li Hope. Unfortunately, the jewellery industry at large has been slow to respond to the need for ethical gold mining practices and so the challenge to incite change has come down to the independent designer.
In the Amazon alone, more than 123,500 acres of rainforest have been destroyed to accommodate makeshift mines. This has resulted in over 3000 tons of mercury being leaked or dumped into the country’s rivers, according to researchers at the Carnegie Department of Global Ecology and the Peruvian government.
The human toll is just as steep, with dangerous working conditions and minimal pay. Mines near La Capitana are known for hiring hundreds of illegal miners to dig without any protective equipment or even lighting. The areas surrounding these mines have shown that 80 percent of the population currently has dangerously high levels of mercury poisoning their bodies.
The “ethical gold” initiative hopes to change the deplorable face of the gold-mining industry by selling directly to wholesale consumers with a 10 percent premium for the assurance that the gold is mined according to fair labour rules and environmentally protective practices.
Amanda Li Hope, an independent jeweller based in London, was one of the first to buy ethical gold for the production of her collection. “I was so frustrated with the industry before,” said Li Hope, “no bullion dealer could 100 percent guarantee where anything was coming from.”
Li Hope designs and creates guilt-free gold rings, necklaces and earrings, and has bought about 4.5 ounces (130 grams) of gold labelled “Fairmined” or “Fairtrade” since 2011. Small mining organizations such as Aurelsa, which has only 45 employees, are beginning to make “Fairmined gold” accessible to independent designers such as Li Hope. The company made their first international sale of gold certified as “ethical” back in 2013 and have exported an additional 10kg since then.
The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), which is an advocacy group that seeks to improve small-scale miners’ working conditions through direct sales to overseas customers, has assisted Aurelsa’s efforts especially against the competition of the larger scale mining organisations. Lina Villa-Cordoba, ARM’s executive director, has said: “we have to find a way to create industry-wide demand, to move the market.”
This ‘David and Goliath’ style battle against the bullion industry will certainly take time. However, consumer demand for ethically sourced and created jewellery is growing and is being met by independent designers such as Amanda Li Hope. It is inevitable that the high-street and luxury jewellery industry will eventually have to follow suit to meet the demands of their consumers for ethical gold. Only then will the human and environmental impact of society’s love affair with gold become un-tainted by the stains of misery and destruction.