'Fair trade gold': Antecedents, prospects and challenges
Hilson, G. (2008) 'Fair trade gold': Antecedents, prospects and challenges. Geoforum, 39 (1). pp. 386-400. ISSN 0016-7185
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1016/j.geoforum.2007.09.003
This paper critically examines the challenges with, and impacts of, adopting the models in place for fair trade agriculture in the artisanal gold mining sector. Over the past two years, an NGO-led 'fair trade gold' movement has surfaced, its crystallization fuelled by a burgeoning body of evidence that points to impoverished artisanal miners in developing countries receiving low payments for their gold, as well as working in hazardous and unsanitary conditions. Proponents of fair trade gold contest that increased interaction between artisanal miners and Western jewellers could facilitate the former receiving fairer prices for gold, accessing support services, and ultimately, improving their quality of life. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, however, the gold being mined on an artisanal scale does not supply Western retailers as perhaps believed; it is rather an important source of foreign exchange, which host governments employ buyers to collect for their coffers. It is maintained here that if the underlying purpose of fair trade is to improve the livelihoods and well-being of subsistence producers in developing countries, then the models that have proved so successful in alleviating the hardships of agro-producers of 'tropical' commodities such as coffee, tea, bananas and cocoa, should be adapted to artisanal gold mining in sub-Saharan Africa. Campaigns promoting 'fair trade gold' in the region should view host governments, and not Western retailers, as the 'end consumer', and focus on improving governance at the grassroots, organizing informal operators into working cooperatives, and addressing complications with purchasing arrangements - all of which would go a long way toward improving the livelihoods of subsistence artisanal miners. A case study of Noyem, Ghana, the location of a sprawling illegal gold mining community, is presented, which magnifies these challenges further and provides perspective on how they can be overcome. (c) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.