How much gold is there in the world? One million tonnes? A billion? The actual figure may surprise you. It is widely believed that all the gold that is currently in the world would fit into a 30ft tall box the size of a tennis court, or roughly speaking, a small house. All of the gold that’s ever been mined including every Egyptian treasure, all the crown jewels of the world’s monarchs, every wedding band or anniversary watch and every gold bar sitting in a bank would fit snugly inside that house. For a metal that’s so important to us, that’s not very much, and that’s why it continues to be so precious to us all.
The forgotten crisis
But what does that mean for the way that we add to our gold supply? There has rightly been a great public swing away from the unethical practices of large scale diamond and gem mining after high profile campaigns and even Hollywood movies took the practice to task. However most of any engagement ring or wedding band is gold, and there is a lot less focus on the way that these precious metals are mined around the world. As more and more interests compete for less and less gold, and competition over price gets more intense, many mining companies are resorting to unethical practices to get the most gold at the cheapest price. At Commins & Co, we believe that’s fundamentally wrong, and we only use ethically sourced gold in our jewellery. But what does that mean, and how can you tell what’s ethical and what’s not?
The gold problem
Gold is found all over the world, and just about every civilisation since the dawn of time has worked it. Ancient Celts mined it in Ireland, Britons mined it in Wales, the Egyptians made exquisite treasures from it for their kings and it was so plentiful in South America that the Maya used it to make common utensils like plates and knives. However, after thousands of years of use, these easily accessible gold seams have become less productive and more expensive to work. As a result, the best and biggest gold seams are now only found in more remote places that humans have explored less, or deeper underground where we are only just becoming able to dig thanks to modern technology. These places tend to be either places of great natural significance or beauty which are otherwise untouched, or in less developed parts of the world where there is great poverty and exploitation of indigenous workers.
The environmental cost
Large scale mining can be a major pollutant and can cause great damage to the flora and fauna around it. Not only are there obvious causes of damage such as the actual boring and digging apparatus above and underground, it is also common to use poisonous chemicals such as mercury as part of the mining process, which can seep into the groundwater along with other harmful byproducts like arsenic. This can devastate the ecosystem in some of the world’s most fragile and isolated places, threatening endangered species and wiping out habitats for many more. On top of the immediate effects, the process of moving machinery and ore to and from the site necessitates the building of roads and railways through wilderness areas which damage habitats and spread further pollution.
The human cost
On top of this environmental damage, developing countries can face even more challenges to the people who live there from large scale gold and platinum mining. In places where employment rights and health and safety procedures aren’t as robust, workers face everything from low pay and discrimination to the real possibility of injury and death, or even long term illnesses caused by mining without compensation or disability pay. As the gold becomes more scarce and the mines go deeper into the earth, these problems only get worse due to the increased danger of working at depth. There is even a political element to the danger, as a valuable commodity like gold is often involved in greater evils such as war crimes and genocide as rival factions fight over the mining rights.
Ultimately, the cause of all of these issues isn’t a lack of gold in safer mines or danger inherent in the industry – it’s greed. The cheapest gold can be sourced from mines like this, but at Commins & Co we believe there’s nothing more valuable than human life and happiness. As a result, we only buy our gold from certified fair trade mines that are properly regulated for the benefit of the people who work there and the environment in which they work. These mines are smaller scale and eco-friendly, so while their gold is more expensive to extract it means that they don’t use harmful chemicals to make the process easier and they pay their workers a fair wage with proper safety standards.
Fair Trade gold is the world’s first independent and ethically sourced verification system for gold, which means it’s the only way that you can be absolutely sure the gold you’re buying isn’t tainted by exploitation. There is a thriving black market in unethical gold that is claimed to be from ethical sources, when in fact is has been trafficked or even stolen. That’s why Fair Trade gold can be traced through its entire journey, right back to the mine where it was produced.
A gold or platinum ring is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful gifts that a person can give, and stays forever in another person’s heart. But we believe that this special moment should be built on a foundation of care for the environment and for other people, so we only use Fair Trade gold in our products to help ensure that happens. While we as a company absorb a greater cost when we procure these precious metals, we do it with pride and a clear conscience in knowing that we have done the right thing, and that our gold has been mined in an ethically sound manner.
If Eco-friendly jewellery is the route you wish to go down, we would suggest reading our article about Lab Grown diamonds. See here