Ethical Gold & Jewellery Discussion

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Dirty Gold, Ethical Jewellery and Ethical Engagement Rings

We would like to start this section of our website by simply re-iterating our strict policy on the sourcing of materials - NOT to contribute to any un-ethical or unlawful practices. To that end, we always strive to ensure that we advise our clients fully, truthfully and accurately whilst leaving the final choice to you, the customer on the ethical sourcing of your gold for your engagement rings or wedding rings.

This page is about gold; from the ground to the customer - we are going to apply the same policy to this information as we do with everything else in order to give you the truth, totally unbiased in what we hope will be the best dicussion of these issues in one place on the web, so you can make your own choices when you commission ethical engagement rings or ethical jewellery of any kind from us or any other jeweller.  After all, the final choice is yours and not ours.

To really understand the ethical issues surrounding gold, our most precious of metals, you need to look into the past.  But is you want to jump straight to the contraversial issues click these links - Ethical Gold Issues | Mining Ore | Recovery of Gold From Ore | Heavy Metals  | Fair Trade Gold | Gold Recovery - Chemistry 101 | Gold For Jewellery | Recycled Gold | Gold on Britain's high street |

Alternatively, you could just jump straight to our conclusion and find out how dirty gold used for jewellery really is here - Ethical jewellery - dirty gold or green ecological gold ?

A very brief history of gold mining


Removal of gold from the ground

Evidence of man's use of gold dates back to the stone age when, like any other stone or metal, it was first found glittering in a stream after it had been washed out of the rock (placer gold).  As  placer gold was found as almost pure nuggets, we found we could work this new stone easily and make things from it - this was Man's first experience wi th metal and due to gold deposits being geologically distributed all over the world, many different unconnected ancient civilizations discovered it at around the same time. 

When all the easy to find gold was eventually picked up from streams or dried up river beds it was noticed embedded in outcrops of rock (lode gold). The ancients found they could follow the rocks containing gold underground and the first mines were dug to follow the "veins" under the surface.  We also noticed that some rocks generally had gold in them more than others, like quartz, which gave us some idea where to dig. 

The earliest mines were undoubtably dug at least around 5000BC - probably the best evidence of these primative mines which were literally just holes in the ground, sometimes several metres deep, can be found in Western Africa, India and the Americas.  Mining became more elaborate and scientific, early references to the geology, mining, and metallurgy of gold appear in ancient Egyptian codes, on stelae, and in pictograms and inscriptions in the tombs of the Pharaohs (3100BC).  The most ancient geological map known, the famous "La carte des mines d'or", c.1320BC located roads, miners' houses, gold mines, quarries, auriferous mountains, and so on.  Later sophisticated hydraulic mining methods were used to mine gold across the Roman Empire from Egypt, Thrace and across Europe into Italy, Spain and the Angel Isles (UK).  Such was the demand for gold which most ancient civilisations seemed to hold in scared esteem becoming a symbol of wealth and social rank. 

Our obsession with this yellow metal became all consuming and so began the various gold rushes throughout the centuries.  The greatest early surge in gold recovery followed the first voyage of Columbus. From 1492 to 1600, Central and South America, Mexico, and the islands of the Caribbean Sea contributed significant quantities of gold to world commerce.  Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, and Hispaniola contributed 61% of the world's newfound gold during the 17th century. In the 18th century they supplied 80%. Following the discovery (1848) of gold in California, North America became the world's major supplier of the metal. From 1850 to 1875 more gold was discovered than in the previous 350 years. By 1890 the gold fields of Alaska and the Yukon edged out those in the Western United States, and soon the African Transvaal exceeded even these. Today the world's unmined reserves are estimated at 1 billion troy oz (31 billion g), about half in the Witwatersrand area of the Republic of South Africa.  Smaller gold deposits are still found and mined in Wales, Hungary, and the Ural Mountains of the Russian Federation.

Gold comes out of the ground as a mixture of metal and other minerals known as "ore". The ore needs refining to give up its content of gold.  The earliest form of extraction and refining was a simple method of sluicing, an oblong box with a strong current of water running through it washing the lighter material away from the gold. Sluicing was probably developed in India in the Khola region.  Of course, this only separates placer gold from the gravel and mud, what about if the gold is trapped in rock as lode gold?  Processes for extraction from lode gold involves crushing the ore into a powdery substance from which the gold can be recovered.  Initially, methods of recovery used simple separation techniques using gravity - gold is heavy so it sinks faster.  Then later, it was found that gold amalgamates with other heavy metals which can then be removed from the final product.  This is where our some of our modern ethical problems really start to occur.

The modern commercial process

Mining
Mining is usually carried out in one of thee methods.
1. placer mining - mostly a manual technique of sorting gold from gravel and mud sourced from river and stream beds (alluvial or elluvial gravel).  The most common method is panning, but more complex mechanical methods are employed in large scale operations.   As the name suggests, placer gold is found using this method.
2. hard rock mining - traditionally tunnels and shafts are dug and the ore removed as lode gold.  Mines can be just a shallow hole in the ground or many hundreds of metres deep - the deepest mine is 3900m below the surface.  In recent years open pit mining like those for gravel have been used.
3. biproduct gold mining - gold is also produced by mining in which it is not the principal product. The largest gold producing mine in the world is actually a copper mine !

Gold recovery - refining
Placer gold is simply extracted using gravity, as in early times - the gold is far denser than the mud and gravel, so it sinks faster in water and the mud and gravel can be discarded leaving the gold in the pan.  Amalgamation with mercury was used to enhance recovery and still is in many operations, however a more sophisticated "froth flotation" method can be used now.  Hard rock gold usually needs a more rigorous process which involves crushing and the use of a suitable solution to "leach" the gold (turn it into a water soluble suspension) from the ore.

Amalgamation is one of the oldest methods of extracting gold from its ores. According to Herbert Hoover, in a footnote to his translation of Georgius Agricola's De Re Metallica, the amalgamation of gold possibly dates from Roman times.  The physical and/or chemical characteristics that make amalgamation with mercury work are not clearly understood to this day. However, it is known that if clean mercury is brought into contact with clean gold, the gold is wetted and "drawn into" the mercury. This results in a solution of gold in mercury or an alloy of gold and mercury called Amalgam.  After the mercury has gathered in the gold it can be removed by dissolving it in nitric acid or by driving it off as a vapour by heat. The gold will remain behind.  This process is up to 98% efficient in skilled hands.  A recent innovation in the use of mercury in treating concentrates is to charge it by introducing a small amount of a very active metal like sodium or potassium. The resulting product is called "charged mercury" and will amalgamate with gold in an aggressive manner.

The most common process called the MacArthur-Forrest Cynanidation Process uses cyanide.  Lead complexes can increase the efficacy of the process.  The gold is first complexed with the cyanide then this solution is reduced using a redox reaction back to soluble gold which is removed from solution either using activated carbon to selectively absorb it, or the Merrill-Crowe process where zinc powder is added to cause a precipitation of gold and zinc. The fine product can be either doré (gold-silver bars) or zinc-gold sludge that is then refined elsewhere.  Waste materials are discherged to a "tailings pond"

Non chemical methods of gold recovery usually involve placer gold.  Less expensive options include sluicing, jigs and shaking tables which filter by gravity or mesh size.  More commercial methods use spiralling or rotating cones or bowls, relatively expensive and somewhat delicate machinery such as the Knelson Concentrator.

Smelting
The recovered gold is smelted into pure gold bars.  Any further impurities are burnt off by a high temperature producing 99.99% purity or 24ct gold.

The ethical issues surrounding dirty gold

During the last 30-40 years public opinion in more affluent countries has been highly influenced by the awareness of ethical issues, not only those of our own existence such as freedom to speak and to live without oppression, but those of the other species that we share this planet with such as the destruction of habitats and the plight of individual creatures or plant species.  Some of the most contraversial issues of the last 10 years surround the production of our clothes and ornament and our commodities, of which in the last few years since the world monetary crisis, gold has become one of the most important.

In most discussions surrounding Dirty Gold or Ethical Gold, indeed as with many debates, parties wil take a side and bias their arguments to this end.  In our experience, this style of discussion usually only serves to confuse the real truth and a clever orator or writer can effect great personal gain from the sway they create in public opinion.  The discussion below will take a more scientific and jounalistic approach which is properly researched and totally unbiased instead of delivering half truths and diversions to sway you to an opinion.  We will give you the pro's and cons so you can make up your own mind.

Major ethical issues surrounding gold

Mining Ore

Open Pit Mines
In more recent years, this controversial method of mining for gold has become more standard in the industry.  As the name suggests, in open pit mining no vertically descending mineshaft is present; rather, layers of earth are scrapped away forming a deep, deep pit with gold ore being extracted as the operations move downward layer after layer.  Is this dirty or not dirty?

The dirty gold argument largely surrounds the comparative damage this larger scale operation will make to the surrounding environment.  Open pit mining is essentially just another word for a quarry.  So the real question is: how does using this method for mining gold compare with other types of mining in terms of environmental impact?  Here are a few facts:

  1. Some of the largest footprints we leave on our planet are open pit mines - these can be seen from space and the satellite images clearly show these huge operations - here is a good link open pit mine images .  Some of these are larger than towns.  Its not hard to see how this can be damaging to an environment.  These concerns have recently led to the banning of all open pit mining projects in Costa Rica on the grounds of impact to wildlife and forest.  Its interesting that this ban excludes the Infinito Gold company's Crucitas project, which already has an environmental permit with an indicated resource of 1.2 million ounces of gold - Crucitas had been declared a project of national interest.  This ban has come at a time when Costa Rica earns less than 1% of its gross domestic product from metals mining so it seems they have nothing to lose.  A similar ban on open pit mining has been proposed in the Philipine province of South Cotabato which would seriously dampen the prospects of San Miguel Corp. in the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project, though the governemt is "in talks" with the company about its prospects.

  2. Open pit mining creates about 8 times as much waste material as shaft mining.  70% of all material excavated is waste.  Gold is recovered at around 1-2ppm (around 1.5g per tonne average).

  3. In most areas surface mining, which includes open pit mines, are subject to reclamation laws.  Unlike other mines, the companies who own them must reverse the impact to the environment when mining ceases.  Some landscaped quarries are now nature reserves.

  4. Most open pit mines are dug to recover other materials.  Gold, if present, is a biproduct.  The largest open pit mines in the world are primarily copper mines.  The most common were coal mines.

  5. Before any earth is removed, satellite surveys and geochemistry and other cutting edge technologies are used to determine where gold deposits actually are.  From this a very precise computer design is created to limit the area of the open pit gold ore mine significantly.  This fact is true of all mining on a large scale.

  6. It is generally conceded that surface mining is more advantageous than underground mining in terms of recovery, grade control, economy, and flexibility of operation, safety, and the working environment.

Underground Mines
The actual mining is carried out underground via a decline (ramp), inclined vertical shaft or adit (near horizontal excavation) to reach a deposit of ore, usually following a vein or seam.  Levels are excavated horizontally off the decline or shaft to access the ore body.  "Stopes" are then excavated perpendicular (or near perpendicular) to the level into the ore.

There are many methods - here are some examples:

  • Probably the most common for accessing primary gold happens in quartz veins. The removal of gold ore from these tough quartz veins was traditionally referred to as "quartz reef mining" using a shaft - the kind of mine normally seen in movies where the miner travels straight down into a profound, dark tunnel until he reaches the base. 

  • "Drift mining", an adit style process involving cutting into the side of a hill or mountain rather than tunneling directly downwards into the earth is another common gold ore mining method, particularly regular in the Californian gold rush (a drift can also mean a cut that it made into ore containning bedrock at the bottom of a decline)

  • "Room and pillar" mining is commonly done in flat or gently dipping bedded ore bodies. Pillars are left in place in a regular pattern while the rooms are mined out.

  • "Cut and Fill" mining is a method of "short hole mining" (literally a shallow depth mine) used in narrow ore zones. An access ramp is driven off the main level to the bottom of the ore zone to be accessed.

  • Drift and Fill, Block Caving and more - in fact there seem to be a lot of underground mining methods all adding to the complexity of this particular process.

Artisanal and Small Scale Mines
These are small mines which are run by a local family or small business or individual prospectors.  Most gold collected is placer gold by panning, but in Africa particularly there are many underground mines.   Unlike the old drift mines we associate with the mid 19th Century American gold rush, more often than not, these mines are rudimentary hand dug vertical shafts or simple holes in the ground usually no more than 15m deep.  Like any underground mine, these can be quite dangerous for those who work in them, often poorly constructed with no safety equipment available at all.  According to the Alliance For Fair Trade Mining and Fair Trade Internations, these mines contribute 10-15% to the current overall world output of gold but make up 90% of the labour force in the gold industry.

Globally, the roughly 100 million Artisanal and small scale miners are characterised by high levels of poverty and are often from the most disadvantaged part of society.   When gold is found in an area, a community develops around it.  Most mining communities lack basic sanitation, clean and safe drinking water, have poor housing, little or no access to education and healthcare, are financially unstable and, in politically unstable areas, are open to attack or control by militant groups or even the governments.

Recovery of gold from ore

The extraction of the gold from the ore is again fraught with ethical issues, mainly due to the amount of ore that needs to be processed.  The industrial recovery of precious metals, copper, uranium and other materials usually involves "Heap Leaching", which as the name suggests is literally performing the process described above on a large heap of crushed ore.  Here are the facts:

  • The substances used for gold leaching are less than desirable chemicals including solutions of cyanide, mercury, lead, hydrogen peroxide and sulphur

  • Although aqueous solutions of cyanide degrades rapidly in sunlight, the less-toxic products, such as cyanates and thiocyanates, may persist for some years.

  • There has been six famous major disasters involving cyanide spills related to gold recovery. The causes were mostly due to human errors or accidents including leakages, truck crashes and helicopters dropping crates.  Only one, Ok Tedi, Papua New Guinea was likely avoidable involving unrestrained waste discharge.

  • The famous disasters have killed few people - humans can be warned not to drink or go near polluted water - but cyanide spills can have a devastating effect on rivers, sometimes killing everything for several miles downstream. However, the cyanide is soon washed out of river systems and, as long as organisms can migrate from unpolluted areas upstream, affected areas can soon be repopulated. In the Some? river below Baia Mare, the plankton returned to 60% of normal within 16 days of the spill.

  • Ok Tedi, Papua New Guinea polution effects have persisted from the 1980s to the present day.

  • Such spills have prompted fierce protests at new mines that involve use of cyanide, such as Ro?ia Montan? in Romania, Lake Cowal in Australia, Pascua Lama in Chile, and Bukit Koman in Malaysia. 

  • Over 90 mines worldwide now use an Inco SO2/air detoxification circuit to convert cyanide to the much less toxic cyanate before waste is discharged to a tailings pond.  The cyanide levels are reduced well below the legal limits using this method.

  • Recent studies show that residual cyanide trapped in the gold-mine tailings causes persistent release of toxic metals (e.g. mercury ) into the groundwater and surface water systems. 

  • There are occasional examples of heavy metal poisoning in populations near gold mines though there is confusion about whether it comes from gold mining or soil deposits that collect following deforestation.

Heavy Metals - Poisoning
As can be seen from the last point above, one of the ethical issues with the recovery of gold surrounds the use of heavy metals, particularly mercury, in solution which can be dangerous for workers and get into our water supplies and food chains.  Human populations can be warned not to drink the polluted water, so the problems are attributed mostly to the heavy metal ions binding to proteins in other animals and not being excreated like other ions that are not useful to the body.  They then acculmulate up the food chain (small fish eat plankton, big fish eat small fish, we eat big fish, we develop symptoms which get worse the more fish we eat) resulting in levels in individuals which become toxic.  So even if you fish from a river which isn't polluted, you can still become ill.  Symptoms include skin sores, hair loss, sickness and nervous system disfunction.

It isn't only a problem for large gold mines who use tons of chemicals, it s also a problem for artisanal and small scale miners.  Neither is it constricted to hard rock mining.  Mercury is often used by these smaller miners and prospectors to recover gold from solution, and safety measures are likely insufficient during its use or its disposal.  Many of these users even directly handle the mercury - they don't just get ill from the metal being absorded though the skin, they could breath in minute amounts of vapour Mercury gives off or handle the metal without safety precautions, then touch their food or water and ingest the minute amounts that are transferred.  Over time, the metals accumulate in their proteins until it reaches toxic levels and they can become ill.  Typical symptoms are hair loss, skin lesions and sores and eventually even insanity.

Fair Trade Gold (Ethical Gold)

Fairtrade and Fairmined certified gold comes from artisanal and small scale mining organisations that meet the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold standard. This means the gold has been responsibly mined and that the miners have received a Fairtrade Minimum Price and Premium which assists social, environmental and economic development in the communities. The term Fairtrade / Fairmined recognises the partnership between Fairtrade International and The Alliance For responsible Mining who jointly deliver the certified gold. Most of this gold goes directly from the mine to and central sale office and then to jewellery manufacturers - this is where ethical engagement rings, wedding rings and other ethical jewellery will in theory be coming from if you buy certified ethical jewellery on the high street.

The Fairtrade/ Fairmined Dual Label ensures that gold has been extracted and processed in a fair and responsible manner. This means (directly quoted from the Fair Trade Fair Mined Gold website):

  • Miners‘ organisations are strengthened - Miners form groups to give themselves better bargaining power with traders, to get a fairer return for their gold, and gain greater control over the jewellery supply chain. They are required to participate in the social development of their communities.

  • Child labour is eliminated - Miners‘ organisations must eliminate child labour. No one under 15 years old may be contracted to work in the mining organisation. Those under 18 must not work in hazardous or dangerous conditions.
    Working conditions are improved

  • Fairtrade /Fairmined certification requires mandatory use of protective gear and health and safety training for all miners.
    Freedom of association and collective bargaining is respected - Miners’ organisations recognise the right of all workers to establish and join trade unions and collectively negotiate their working conditions.

  • Responsible use of chemicals is mandatory - Miners must use safe and responsible practices for management of toxic chemicals, such as mercury and cyanide, in gold recovery. Chemicals have to be reduced to a minimum and where possible eliminated over an agreed time period.

Its important to mention that the environmental impacts of mining depend on where it occurs, but can include deforestation, land degradation through air, water and soil pollution from dust, mud or toxic substances, as well as impact on local wildlife.  By working with the mining organisations before certification, it is possible to drastically reduce these impacts with the proper support and incentives.  Small scale mining is claimed to be not significantly dirtier per unit of output than other mining activities, but since it processes much less ore than large-scale mining per ounce of gold, the magnitude of its impact on the land is much smaller anyway though its working practices are conceded to be far less ethical in human terms.  We will test this later and see if ethical engagement rings are as ethical as they can be - if you want to jump straigh to it, here's the link Ethical jewellery - dirty gold or green ecological gold ?

Additionally, if chemical use were not permitted by Fairtrade and Fairmined standards, 95% of all small scale mines would be excluded from the Fairtrade system.  Instead the standards set out a process to support mining organisations to minimise the use of mercury and cyanide over an agreed period of time through responsible practices and technologies to mitigate impact on the environment and human health.  The Fairtrade and Fairmined standards require miners to use a process which ensures that mercury emissions are drastically reduced.

Of course the mining method differs depending on geology. For example, Colombian miners in the Oro Verde group in Choco Columbia pan for gold in water, whereas those working for Sotrami carry out hard-rock mining using dynamite and machinery to extract ore, which is then processed to extract gold. 

The gold produced by groups with strong environmental management systems in place and who are not using chemicals will be known as ‘Ecological Gold’ and these products carry an additional premium on top of the Fairtrade premium. The additional premium recognises the additional costs in maintaining environmental controls.  An example is the Oro Verde group - all mining is alluvial and current producer groups are capable of generating 14.9kg of gold with 85% purity and 4.2kg of platinum with 84% purity per year.  For this their premium is 2% above normal market rates.

Fairtrade and Fairmined gold can carry an additional mark which accompanies the normal assay marks.

Mining Discussion


(please note - this discussion may involve our opinions but is hopefully not swayed by them)

Underground or Overground?
Its fairly plain to see why open pit mining for any substance, whilst the least expensive method, is the most ethically contentious.  It has highest environmental impact of any mining method - all surface mining techniques are similar in that regard; and usually its only undertaken by large corporations who can afford the equipment and therefore the excavations are likely much grander in comparison to smaller operations attracting more attention.  However, there are the rehabilitation laws which larger companies have to adhere to.  These have produced very successful examples of returning the devastated environment back into a sustainable area for wildlife.  But does that necessarily mean that the environment should have been destroyed in the first place?

The truth that it is certainly more expensive for a company to mine underground is undisputed; the only way it would even be considered commercially is if there was a very rich vein with several hundred feet of "overburden" (covering rock) which would be very awkward and expensive to remove any other way - that's not to say they won't consider it as an option - but is this option if chosen any less ethical? 

No serious "dirty gold" ethical issues so far have been raised with respect to commercial underground mining, actually quite the reverse - the commercial company Sotrami has marketed their underground mine as green gold.  This is somewhat juxtaposed to the position traditionally taken regarding underground mining up until the mid 1980's.  It is true to say that significantly less rock is removed to achieve the same yield of gold as open pit mining methods and therefore much less waste material is created, but it takes more effort and time to generate this yield and hence more time for workers in a less than healthy environment.  Indeed, many years after mines are closed, workers health issues and other safety and environmental impact are still being monitored to this day: examples include the condition known as "miners lung" involving minute particles of dust breathed in by working in the enclosed spaces causing serious respiration problems and "vibration white finger" from using the mechanical digging equipment for many years.

In terms of danger underground mines are, well, a literal minefield - recent events in Chile have shown how dangerous they can be when 34 miiners were trapped follwong collapse in a San Jose copper/gold mine - thankfully 33 were saved afer a record 69 day ordeal 2,300ft underground.  Drift mining has been banned in some places due to the high risk of collapse.  Government compensation to workers for health problems have cost UK tax payers billions.  There is little wonder why insurers sometimes refuse to underwrite underground mines leaving a company high and dry should disaster strike.

But we as consumers want the resources provided by mining at an affordable cost - for example copper for electrical conductors or coal for power stations to provide us with electricity.  We do like our creature comforts here in the West but are we prepared for the cost increase?  A rough estimate would be around 3 or 4 times more expensive initially, then when reserves run low any increase could be levied to cover costs - maybe a factor of 10 wouldn't be unreasonable.  Like diamonds, the desire to become involved in the production of metal ores and/or supply more cheaply than large corporations might lead to even less ethical supplies than we have now.

So which method is best?  Open pit which makes a huge scar on the earth and destroys habitats even though they must reclaim the area after mining has ceased; or underground which puts workers lives at serious risk every day and makes for a more expensive market encouraging more small scale operations to supply which, dare we say, use comparatively less ethical mining practices than would ordinarily be allowed by law with large corporations.  For sure it is a dilema ...

Labour issues
Large mining corporations have very expensive technology and machinery and are also subject not only to mining laws, both internationally and local, but also the normal employment, health and safety and other working practice laws by which all companies are bound around the world. Generally, the use of specialist machinery means that relatively small labour forces work in corporate mining - in the mining of gold specifically, this makes up approximately 10% of the overall labour force who enjoy protection by employment and mining laws.  So what of the other 90% ?  Well, if you hadn't already guessed these are the Artisanal and Small Scale miners.

Wheras large scale mining uses highly trained engineers, geologists, digging crews and the companies who employ them have HR departments, mining for gold on a small scale reuires little knowledge or skill and the workers are mostly on their own recognizance.  Therefore, small scale mining for gold generally attracts economically disadvantaged and vulnerable people seeking a higher income.  It is also seen as an important alternative to less attractive or profitable activities, and as a chance to improve economic situations.  Mining laws are usually geared towards large scale industrial mining and governments tend to give the large-scale industry preferential mining rights.  This leaves small scale miners, who find it hard to access legal mining rights, more vulnerable and pushes them into informal or illegal operations where working conditions are hazardous and health and safety measures are non-existent. The unskilled handling of toxic chemicals such as mercury and cyanide poses severe risks to miners’ health and the natural environment.

Far from it, for us in the Western World to ever exert our pressure or opinions or indeed our laws on another country's inhabitants or get involved in their internal politics, religion or law courts ... however, notwithstanding war, illegalities or despotic activity of miltants, this commenter's personal thoughts on the matter are that this style of mining is a choice, albeit a choice between poor options, but still a choice.  

There are many questions that can be asked including but not limited to:   Should we be responsible for their government's policies ?  Are they asking for our help or are we simply pushing our opinions onto them because we think we can ?   Indeed, do they think they need or want our help or involvement ?  Will they thank us for it, or hate us for our arrogance in thinking we know best ?  What will they do if they can't mine ?  The list is endless.

The labour issues surrounding gold, like with other low paid or dangerous working environments in such countries, are very very complex.  It appears the countries with the most weath in terms of resources tend to be the least able to control them or exploit them - they also seem to be the countries with the most difficult and sometimes violent internal politics and the ones which the more affluent countries hold quite considerable business interests. 

Despite the ethical issues which are concerning us here in the West, this issue may not be about whether they should or shouldn't mine the way they do.  If everything is legal and above board under their country's laws, it concerns civil liberty and the freedom to make a choice and a living unhindered by others - a basic human right.  Perhaps we need to tread carefully as this particular issue could bring about very serious consequences for the larger proportion of the 90% we are trying to keep from harm. 

The Fair Trade Gold certificate is one such solution but it does have its costs associated with it and is reliant on joining the scheme rather than it being mandatory.  Many of the small scale miners may not want to be bound by any of these restrictions or the costs involved.  So what should be done?  There are other optins involving aid resources, for example experienced personnel can be made available to train the owners/workers.   But is it right for us to bring pressure to bear on their operations which forces them out of the mining business altogether when their own country's laws are not being breached ?  Again - there are two sides to every story.

Fair Trade Gold
This scheme at the time of writing has a membership of nine mining groups, which is comparatively tiny.  Membership is only available for artisanal and small scale mines, some of whom can boast the additional label and premium of Ecological Gold if they mine without the use of chemicals. 

Whilst we are in support of the Fairtrade Organisation and Alliance for Responsible Mining, it could be said that the exclusion of larger mining corporations from schemes might give the impression that gold mined by other methods is all "dirty gold" .  The fact is, the idea behind Fair Trade Gold is that it brings the small scale mines in reach of SOME of those legal responsibilities of the larger mining organisations, mainly in terms of the responsible use of chemicals.  It also forces the market they serve (mainly jewellery manufacture) to offer a "fair price" (spot price plus 10%), or in some cases better than that price, for their product via a controlled product sales centre leaving the miners to do what they do best, which is pan or dig. 

The use of chemicals is not excluded, only given a further premium price if it is not used.  There are certain cases where no chemicals are used, but this is mostly because of the type of ore found in the deposit and not because they are neccessarily using another method of gold recovery which doesn't involve chemicals.  Indeed, from basic chemistry lessons most school kids will be able to tell you that cyanide is dangerous and shouldn't be used outside of a well furnished laboratory.  Therefore mostly what they mean by "not using chemicals" is not using mercury.

Mostly the Fair Trade Organisation are interested in sorting out the labour and political issues that have been discussed above, the environmental impact and traceability of the product, and to this end they are quite effective in so much that communities are much better served with schools and medical facilities and mines are not shored up with twigs and trucks are at least servicable.  Save for sharpening up the procedures and responsibilities, It is likely the health and safety concerns are far more complex than can be brought right up to standard without serious financial input and are not realistically achievable by the Fair Trade Organisation or Alliance for Responsbile Mining.

One other factor for discussion with Fair Trade Gold is directed at the Fair Trade Organisation.  Mines wishing to join the Fair Trade Fair Mined scheme generally do so for the equality and protection of the premium they get and are not generally philanthropically aided in other areas and indeed might not want that intrusion in their livelihood.  They welcome the advice and act to improve conditions for this premium protection as some artisanal and small scale miners receive as little as 50% or less (apprarently the average is 70%) of the trade price not to mention the oppression they may face. 

Additionally, we have to realise that one of the objectives of Fair Trade Organisations is to support themselves as a charitable organisation and for this they take membership fees and a percentage of future sales from buyers; AND average premiums to jewellers are 10%+ above gold spot rates but the miners get 2% above mine ore rates - what happens to the bit in the middle ?  Just as an example - on 15 tonnes of 85% pure gold product, the bit in the moddle works out to be around £32m from the Oro Verde group (the largest mining group) alone at the spot rates at the time of writing.  Not to menton the platinum product from the same mines.  We will leave you to consider this.

Gold Recovery - Chemistry 101

There really isn't much more to say about this that wasn't included above save for to reiterate that it is highly dependent on the type of gold found and where it is found.  Panning for placer gold is only as efficient as the operator and largely produces a finer ore with little requirement for recovery - but there really isn't many places where this type of mining would be commercially viable.  From then onwards it is all about digging ore and the efficiency of recovery.   Gold from some ores can only be recovered chemically, so its a necessary evil.

For the non chemical methods - sluice boxes, jigs are only efficient with particle sizes above 100 microns and shaking table around 40 microns (98%) - below that these methods are as low as 20% efficient.  The best method would be rotating cones and bowl concentrators which can achieve up to 99% efficiency, but these are expensive.  A spiral concentrator can achieve up to 80% efficiency, but that isn't really enough ... which leaves chemicals which are at least 65% efficient with amalgamation (mercury) and 80% efficient with cyanidisation though the benchmark for both methods in the right hands are 98% and 99% respectively.

What is eye opening is the use of the chemicals; so for interests sake, as one of our partners has a a relevant chemistry degree and the other is a geologist, we are going to furnish you with some facts about the chemicals which might not show up concisely in any other discussions on this subject.

Cyanide (CN) Cyanidation

  • The cyanide used to recover gold is in a 5% solution and held at pH 10.5 - should that solution hit pH 9.3 then cyanide will become gasseous which is not good news for anyone in the vacinity.  So its not the sort of thing you shoud be using in your kitchen even if you are a chemist.

  • The other thing about cyanide is it can't just be bought off the shelf for obvious reasons, so your in house chemist has to make it up from scratch using chemicals that are available to you.  There are several ways which, in the interests of safety, we won't go into but needless to say that anyone with a little bit of chemical knowledge should be able to make up a suitable solution at home.  NB: we really don't advise this activity at all outside of a proper commercial laboratory.

  • CN solutions are re-usable, which most chemists would do to avoid racking up large production costs and to reduce disposal costs.  Before disposal, CN is rendered safe by alkaline chlorination - again not something a small scale mine should get involved with.

  • A good cyanide solution can removed gold from pretty much any host, not necessarily ore.  Examples of things people recover gold from are: computer boards and other electronics, gold leaf paint, gold plated ornaments and jewellery, gold jewellery, dental scrap, other metal scrap, etc.

  • The amount of gold to be extracted is directly linked to CN concentration, the overall solution can (when ratios are right) hold 500 toz gold per ton of solution. So to recover all the gold produced by the entire Oro Verde mining group would need about 5% of that (50kg solution = approx 50 litres) - in other words, not very much - is this picture starting to get clearer now?

  • It is likely that any heap leaching requred by small scale mining is carried out by one of the larger organisations or a dedicated refinery.  We suspect they would sell the ore as "pay dirt" or, like one welsh mine, send the ore to a refinery and have them return the gold (Welsh gold is highly prized and very expensive achieving a huge premium)

  • The safe disposal of CN in the recommended and regulated conditions results in zero contamination to the environment, though there have been some mishaps which have been immeidately very dangerous to animal and human populations and resulted in very high long term environmental contamination.

Amalgamation with Mercury

  • Basically, amalgamation is the practice of bringing free gold particles into contact with mercury and they dissolve to form Amalgam - an alloy of mercury and gold which is then separated using for example nitric acid.

  • Mercury has a relatively high vapor pressure, which means that at normal temperatures if you left a bowl of mercury out in the air a significant amount would vaporize. The most dangerous thing about Mercury is that the lungs will readily absorb the vapors.  Also, heating mercury causes more vapours, so using it without safety precautions in a warmer climate will likely increase the chances of Mercury poisoning.
  • The term “Mad Hatter”, or “mad as a Hatter” derives from the very real situation that hat makers in the 18th century used Mercury to process felt, a commonly used hat making material of that time.  After years of being in the business, exposure to small amounts of mercury vapor each day quite literally made them insane.

  • Ideally the safe use of mercury in amalgamation is for the process be carried out under a laboratory conditions, but this is impractical for small scale miners who often use it without any safety precautions at all.  Wearing latex or nitrile gloves provides very good protection when handling mercury.  Also, pouring a layer of water on top of the Mercury suppresses the mercury vapor.  Wearing appropriate protective clothing and respiration equipment will also give excellent protection.  These simple and mostly inexpensive safety procedures will greatly reduce the chance of Mercury contamination to the user.

  • The Time Weighted Average (TWA) for mercury vapor at 0.025 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) - with no allowable short term exposure limit (STEL), plus a Skin Notation (a warning to the effect that a given substance is easily absorbed through the skin). The NIOSH Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) limit is set at 10 mg/m3.  This means that it falls under the category of extremely dangerous in terms of its laboratory use and would warrant full chemical protective clothing (usually a full body chemical suit with breakthrough of not less than 8 hours) and a full facemask with a chemical cartridge respirator and continuos independent airflow.  Under HSE guidlines all mining corporations would adhere to the minimum reccommended safety equipment when handling Mercury.

  • For Mercury spills the minimum personal safety equipment reccommended is more rigorous that above as the concentration of mercury being cleaned up is not neccesarily known.

  • Alkali and metal processing, incineration of coal, and medical and other waste, and mining of gold and mercury contribute greatly to mercury concentrations in certain areas, but atmospheric deposition is the dominant source of mercury over most of the landscape.  Once in the atmosphere, mercury is widely disseminated and can circulate for years, accounting for its wide-spread distribution.   Natural sources of atmospheric mercury include volcanoes, geologic deposits of mercury, and volatilization from the ocean.

  • The toxic effects of mercury depend on its chemical form and the route of exposure. Methylmercury [CH3Hg] is the most toxic form.  It affects the immune system, alters genetic and enzyme systems, and damages the nervous system, including coordination and the senses of touch, taste, and sight. Methylmercury is particularly damaging to developing embryos, which are five to ten times more sensitive than adults. Exposure to methylmercury is usually by ingestion via the food chain, and it is absorbed more readily and excreted more slowly than other forms of mercury.

  • In terms of environmental contamination, elemental mercury Hg(0), the form used in gold amalgamation, may be found in higher concentrations in environments around gold mine sites.  Although it is less toxic than methylmercury, if elemental mercury is ingested, it is absorbed relatively slowly and may pass through the digestive system without causing damage. Ingestion of other common forms of mercury, such as the salt HgCl2, which damages the gastrointestinal tract and causes kidney failure, is unlikely from environmental sources. Symtoms include tremors, gingivitis, and excitability when vapors are inhaled over a long period of time.

We can see from the information above that most of the problem with the use of chemcials to recover gold surrounds personal protection of the workers from contamination.  Before the early 1990's, PPE (personal protection equipment) was the responsibility of the individual in most cases, and whilst that still remains the same in unregulated working environments, it is certianly highly regulated and enforced in all companies and corporations with severe penalties for lack of provision and support on the part of the company. 

Health And Safety At Work legislation and recommendations apply to every company by international law no matter where they operate.  This is why the Fair Trade Organisation has particularly made it their mandate to clean up the working practices in artisanal and small scale mining.  Notwithstanding accidents, it should be safe to assume that there are no such issues with larger companies causing willful and neglectful exposure to contamination of either their workers or the environment by the unsafe use of chemicals.  Well, at least that is the theory.

Where do we get our gold from for making jewellery?

As stated above, the supply of "new" gold to the world market is represented by approximately 15% from artisanal and small scale mining and 85% from corporate mines.  Of the whole, very little of this is made up of Fair Trade Gold - in fact, currently this is less than 1%.  The gold produced yearly is added to the world gold stocks and is mostly marketed by the World Gold Council who represents many of the world's largest gold mining corporations.  The total amount of gold in the world is estimated to be around 155,000 tonnes.  Total world production of gold is approximately 2500 tonnes (80million ounces) per year - gold is traded in US dollars per troy ounce (toz) where 1 toz = 31.1034 grammes of gold.

Total global gold demand is approximately 3800 metric tonnes per year; the consumption of gold in the world is about 50% in jewellery, 40% in investments, and 10% in industry.  Gold consumption amounts are approximately India (25%), USA (12%) China and SE Asia (17%). Europe ( 7%), the rest of the world (39%).  Most of this gold resides in banks and other secure places in the form of fine 9999 bars before it is sold.  The value of gold for sale to jewellers is determined by the share prices on the stock markets, which fixes twice daily and is known as "spot price".  Most jewellers buy their metal from dealers as bullion (worked metal) at spot plus a premium for making it into a usable alloy and product (sheet, wire, casting grain, etc) for manufacture, the final price being determined by the content of gold in the product.

Hang on a minute - the maths don't add up !  So production is 2500t and consumption is 3800t ?  Thats a shortfall of 1300t. How does that happen ?

Well, much of the gold bought as investment is actually held in the central banks - it never really moves at all, just on paper (leased shares). It is estimated that the central banks hold around 33,000t gold in reserve and sell around 500t per year.  Also, according to the World Gold Council 1100t per year comes from recycled gold scrap which mostly (approx 800t) enters jewellery production, the surplus being sold into reserves. 

Don't you find that interesting ?  You should !  Why ?

A quick calculation will show that if 500t is paper gold (leased shares), the investment market actually consumes 1020 of the 2500t per year, leaving 1480t of which 380t is used in industry, leaving 1100t for use in jewellery.  If the total entering the jewellery market as recycled gold is 800t per yr, then the average percentage of recycled gold in your new gold jewellery is 42.1%.

I'll repeat that - all gold sold worldwide for jewellery making per year at the time of writing this article is comprised of a mixture of about 42.1% recycled gold and the rest mined gold.

Now, for this article on "dirty gold", don't you find that somewhat monumental ?  Even more so when I tell you that in the UK, the estimate is more like 72% recycled to mined gold due to a much larger part of our current European jewellery trade being the buying and recycling of scrap jewellery since early 2008.  Even specialised shops have sprung up and TV ads directed at the buying of gold for cash, an unprecidented market change taking advantage of the highest gold prices since records began.
 

Recycled Gold - The Real Green Ecologial Gold

Historically gold prices per troy ounce (toz) hovered around US $200 during the 70's dipping to half that in 1976 just before the depression in the late 70's when there was a rapid hike in world gold prices spanning several months which peaked at $750, nearly four times the average price for the last 10 years.  Between the years 1982 and 2005, gold prices traded between $300 and $450 per toz despite the world economies ups and downs which included the oil crisis in the Gulf and the slump in the early 90's.  There was doubt that the peaks in the 70's would ever be matched until May 2006 when a peak of $730 caused mayhem on the trading floor; and so began the new gold rush, this time in consumers recycling gold and reclaiming their cash and making a profit on what was effectively unwanted junk in the jewellery boxes.

At the time of writing, the gold spot price is a shade off $1600 per toz - the highest ever world gold price.  The rise has been steady since the financial crash of the banking crisis in 2007 and projections are that it will go on for a while yet and stabilise at a plateau, never to go back down to the old affordable levels.  Gold has never been more interesting both as investment and portable money as more and more of us unload our scrap gold for ready cash injecting hundreds of tonnes back into the system via jewellers to metal processing plants often owned by the bullion dealers who smelt it down and re-incorporate it into their stocks for resale as alloyed metals back into the jewellery manufacturing industry.

This is the real green, ecological gold.  There are no open pit mines, no labour issues, no chemicals, no unfair trading or despotic regimes controlling production, no environmental impact, no underground cave ins, no polluted rivers, comparatively tiny carbon footprints; the list is endless and joyous to write.  In fact, unless you include the numerous unscrupulous gold buyers preying on consumers and the associated crime that has developed from packages of gold being "lost" in the post to armed raids on jewellery stores and house buglaries where the primary target is gold jewellery which can easily be cashed in without any trace, then this is about the cleanest material on the planet.  And nearly three quarters of the gold supplied by bullion dealers to the UK jewellery industry is made up of this gold.

Projections are that there will be much more recycling of gold in the next few years as prices rise and stabilise making the proportion of recycled gold in that sold for jewellery manufacture even higher.  Now the biggest bullion dealer in the UK is planning to sell 100% recycled gold for jewellery manufacture to its trade clients.

Gold on Britain's high street
Surely this is the way forward to the utopia of totally ecologically neutral gold.  But where does the gold jewellery on the high street actually come from ?

In recent years, especially since 2005 when the gold prices started to move upwards rapidly, there has been a move away from manufacture of jewellery in the UK.  In 2005, at the heght of the economic boom in retail there were approximately 18,000 outlets selling precious metal jewellery on the UK high street with a total economic value of £2.9bn per year - comparatively low compared to, say, the US economic precious metal jewellery value, which was nearly 10 times that figure.  These outlets were being served by a number of large and small manufacturers, often inhouse workshops for large chains, working in the UK using materials sourced from the UK.  During 2006-2010, the number of outlets had dropped to around 9,000 and nearly all manufacture of precious metal jewellery had moved abroad, mainly to the Far East, leaving very few high street manufacturers of precious metal jewellery here in the UK.

Similar trends have occurred in the rest of Europe - the net result is, like with most apparel and ornament manufacture, the vast majority of all precious metal jewellery is made in China and Southeast Asia, and it is this jewellery which pervades our high street retail outlets and not jewellery made here in the UK or, indeed, Europe.  

This brings yet another factor into our dirty gold discussion - that of another countries work regimes and resources.  Whilst there are no figures available for the percentage of recycled materials in these countries, we can speculate that it may well be much lower than in our own bullion supplies (72%) to the few UK jewellery manufacturers left.  The average in global world supplies is 42.1%.

Ethical jewellery - dirty gold or green ecological gold ?

Our Conclusion about ethical jewellery

Following many many hours of research, it all really boils down to this question: are the ethical engagement rings and ethical jewellery sold on our high streets dirty gold or green ecologial gold ?  If you have read this whole article, then you will have come to your own conclusion about the supply of gold to the jewellery industry.  As we are UK based, we will draw our conclusions on this alone, especially since us Brits are spearheading the campaign against dirty gold.  For those who are just reading this section, and as this isn't a scientific paper where this wouldn't be appropriate, this is more of a summary and conclusion about jewellery sold in the UK:

  • Ethical issues surrounding gold have really become high on consumer awareness radars since the gold prices have soared in recent years.  They include the environmental impact of the mining processes particularly those of large open pit mines, the labour issues of artisanal and small scale mining, health and safety of workers particularly in the use of noxious / poisonous chemicals and political issues of control and supply.  Perceived unethical gold sources have become labelled "Dirty Gold".  Awareness started in ernest on the UK high street during 2009 and now 20 jewellers have signed up to fairtrade fairmined ethical gold and are selling it with a premium.

  • It would be fair to say that the main thrust of the dirty gold campaign has been in Europe, particularly the UK.  However many issues are potentially misleading and ill informed giving consumers a skewed perspective.  This was quite notable in the recent Dispatches programme "The Real Price Of Gold" on channel 4, where viewers were given a very one sided and even incorrect version of the supply of gold to jewellery manufacturers.

  • According to the latest figures from the World Gold Council, gold demand is for 3800t per year supplied by 2500t from mining, 500t from central bank reserves and 800t from recycled gold.  Of the 2500t newly mined gold, 15% comes from artisan and small scale mining, 85% from the big corporations.  50% of all gold sold each year goes into jewellery manufacture.  Nobody really knows how much recycled gold is supplied to the jewellery industry worldwide since 2009, but the average estimate is around 42% - here in the UK the estimate is 72% due to our very high recycling regime.  Fairmined gold is supplied direct to individual jewellery manufacturers.

  • Most jewellery supplied to the West is manufactured in China and Far East Asia - jointly the second largest consumer of gold behind India which also supplies jewellery to the West.  These countries and regions consume 42% of all gold mined each year.  It is estimated that the amount of recycled gold in jewellery made in China and Asia is much less than average and it is this jewellery that makes up over 80% of that sold on Britain's high streets each year.  Fair trade jewellery in the UK amounts to less than 1%, but they are hoping it will be 5% by 2020.

So - how dirty is the gold that is sold in the UK?  Are ethical engagment rings and other ethical jewellery really ethical at all in comparison to other sources?  Now we have the facts, perhaps its time to score each issue and come up with a "Dirty Gold Score" per unit of gold sold.   We have prepared a table with an explanation of each below and a score 0-10 for each issue - the higher the score, the more dirty the gold is.  In true Blue Peter style, you can do this at home too, but if you do please read the whole article so you are well furnished with the information.  Here goes:

Dirty Gold Score Chart - how ethical is your jewellery ?

Source Impact on Environment Carbon Footprint Heath & Safety Chemical Danger Political Issues Totals (%)
Corporate open pit 7 8 0 3 0 18 (36%)
Corporate underground 3 4 3 2 0 12 (24%)
Artisanal small scale 6 5 10 10 10 41 (82%)
Fair trade mines 3 4 5 2 2 16 (32%)
Recycled gold 0 1 0 0 0 1 (2%)

Notes - why in our opinion they should be scored this way

1. Impact on the environment
Open pit mining definintely has the highest local impact on the environment, but it is a legal requirement for mining corporations to reclaim the land when mining is completed, and they would commission proper environmental studies and geological surveys before mining commences minimising the impact to the environment.  A score of 7 seems fair. 

Whilst Artisanal mines and small scale mining operations don't create massive scars on the landscape, these mines use 90% of the labour in mining, usually all living in makeshift communities around the mining areas without any thought to the impact on the environments there, hence the cumulative effect in our opinion deserves higher score.

Per unit of gold, without the aid of very expensive equipment and professional geological surveys, fair trade mines are digging in the dark and likely producing more waste material than a corporate underground mine.  Additionally, it is likely the waste management is less effective for the same reasons; we have marked them the same as a corporate underground mine even though the environmental impact is likely higher per unit of gold in a fair trade mine, which is essentially an artisanal small scale mining operation that has been brought to a standard.  Despite any claims to the contrary, logically this standard cannot be as high as any corporation due to lack of equipment and highly skilled labour.

2.  Carbon footprint
Open pit mining simply generates more ore than any other mining method, it takes more machinery and more carting of raw product per unit of gold.  Underground mining on a commercial basis will clearly be the next highest in terms of production, but per unit small scale mining will likely equal that due to the huge amount of manpower required - in fact, we would logically expect more due to this, but a score of 5 seems fair. 

Per unit of gold, a fair trade mine should in theory generate as much as a corporate underground mine, though we expect that the communities are more stable even though the labour force will be greater which offsets the potential carbon footprint from this source.  However, as the requirement of tracability of the chain of custody will generate additional trafficking of small amounts of materials to many individual jewellery manufacturers, etc which is clearly going to generate more carbon per unit, so it should be more than a normal undergraound mine really as the finished product is carted in bulk in the corporate mines - to save any arguments, we will make it the same score. 

Recycled gold needs smelting and transporting, so a nominal score of 1 is probably appropriate.

3.  Health and Safety at Work - all large companies are required to meet the required levels of health and safety for their industry by law and are inspected regularly to make sure these requirements are being adhered to.  Most large corporations will far exceed the minimum requirements of safety equipment for both personal and mechanical needs or practices and if they are lacking in any way then they could potentially by closed down until the matter is resolved which would cost a great deal of money in terms of losses and perhaps fines.  Additionally all staff will be appropriately trained and will have standard operationg procedure documents to refer to at any time.  Therefore, as open pit mining is the safest form of mining for workers, it must be the benchmark for mining and hence a score of 0 must apply. 

Underground mining scores 3 due to the highly dangerous nature of the extraction process though we are certain that the companies will be aware and taking appropriate safety measures. 

Artisanal and small scale mining is a highly unsafe arena for passers by, yet alone the workers who climb down poorly secured shafts with no safety equipment and use mercury with their bare hands with no training or personal safety equipment hence the maxumum dirty score of 10 surely applies. 

Fair trade mines are artisanal and small scale mines who have joined the Fair Trade Gold and Responsible Mining with guidelines to how they should work with reference to the legislation and similar large corporation practices - however, lack of resources and training often mean that the high levels of safety achieved and indeed required by corporations simply cannot be met, and should they be subject to the full legislation then it may be quite likely they would fail an inspection. 

Before entering into this discussion, it is important to state that Atelier applauds the efforts made by the Fair Trade Organisations and the individuals wishing to enter into a more controlled environment for trading their goods through it.  However, in the interests of transparancy it must be stated that the remit of the Alliance for Responsible Mining leans more towards alleviating poverty faced by artisanal and small scale gold miners and minimising the impact on the environment than they are in financing massive changes in procedures, training and providing expensive safety equipment.  The Fair Trade Organisation is, as it name suggests, very concerned with a fair price and indeed a premium therefore, save for responsibility toward chemical use, proper health and safety equipment and undestanding of best procedures are not as high on the agenda as one might think.  Therefore, the score of 5 simply reflects this and is in not way a criticism of the good work that has been achieved.

4.  Chemical Danger - the use of cyanide and mercury is basically the issue here.  Again, the corporate mines will have well furnished laboratories and proper leech pads which will completely minimise the potential to harm, though as seen in some cases above, accidents do happen.  Fairtrade and fairmined members have specific guidelines to work with, but it is unlikely that they will be as well furnished with equipment or space to be as safe as the corporate mines.  Open pit mining is scored 3 as it requires more extraction per unit of gold.  Artisanal and small scale mines score the maximum as they generally have no safety measures in place when using chemicals.

5.  The political issues largely revolve around artisanal and small scale mining, which again receives the maximum dirty score.  Fairtrade mines have some protection from this though it still creeps into certain areas.

Conclusion

So, the conclusion we can draw from this excercise is that corporate and fairtrade mines are not significantly different in their Dirty Gold scores - the real green ecological gold is recycled gold which actually makes up a large proportion of the gold that we use in our alloys in the UK - so the very few UK manufacturers left are not as dirty as it would at first seem and the use of Fairtrade Fairmined gold is not really as green as it is made out to be. 

If we were to amalgamate the scores in the proportions that we know are in UK gold, 72% recycled (dirty score of 1.44), 4.2% artisanal small scale mining (dirty score 3.36) and 23.8% corporate mined gold (dirty score 3.81) we find our UK alloys have a dirty score of 8.61 out of 100 ... so pretty good in fact and indeed more ecologically friendly than any other gold source save for pure recycled.  The largest bullion dealer in Europe is planning to supply pure recycled gold with low carbon footprint soon, so every manufacturer in the UK will be able to source gold from them and manufacture nearly 100% ethical gold jewellery.

Of course, the final word goes to the customer - Atelier is pleased to say that we can provide both gold sourced from our bullion dealer and 100% guaranteed recycled gold sources to make ethical engagement rings and wedding rings.



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