Here's some good news: Colombia recently announced the quadrupling in size of a protected wilderness area, the Santurban Regional National Park. The expansion is intended to protect the unique high-altitude páramo ecosystem from large-scale mining and other extractive development. Home to both the Amazon and the páramos, Colombia is a country rich in biodiversity.
The No Dirty Gold campaign calls on retailers, from large department stores to small businesses, to sign the “Golden Rules,” pledging to commit to more responsible metals sourcing. Thus far, 94 retailers have signed on to the Golden Rules, and the list continues to grow. This is one of a series of occasional interviews in which we ask retailers about why they signed the pledge and how they work to implement the Golden Rules in their business. Note that the views expressed by retailers do not necessarily reflect the view of Earthworks.
Colombia is in the middle of a mining bonanza. The national geology and mining regulation body, Ingeominas, reports that between 2008-2010 over 15,000 applications for mining operations were submitted. According to the new report “Mining in Colombia: at What Cost?” (PDF) nearly 40% of Colombia lands are under extraction and exploration licenses. Over 8.4 million hectares have been leased solely for mining, or just about 4x the size of New Jersey.
In the Colombia highlands mining is not a new way of livelihood. Artisanal mining has been a cornerstone of community sufficiency for generations, as is the case in Marmato. Marmato is a small village, in the department of Caldas, with a 500-year history of small-scale artisanal mining. In many ways the community of Marmato embodies the growing struggles of communities that sit on Colombia’s resource rich lands. In this case it’s gold. Marmato sits on “Montana de Oro”, or Mountain of Gold, so it is no surprise that large multi-national mining companies are anxious to tap into the area’s known deposits.
On Wednesday, UK jewelers announced the launch of "Fairtrade" gold jewelry. Some jewelers have already been using gold from these same Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) mines, but two of the mines have recently been certified "Fairtrade." What are these mines, and what does "Fairtrade gold" mean?
The mines, one in Colombia and one in Bolivia, demonstrate both the potential benefits and the problems of the Alliance for Responsible Mining/Fairtrade Labeling Organization certification standards for "Fairtrade" and "Fairmined." The mining and certification may well benefit the communities on the short-term, and the Colombian Oro Verde mine does not use mercury or cyanide. On the other hand, reclamation and restoration standards are poorly defined at both mines, and the Bolivian mine allows mercury use and is located in a National Park. The Colombian mine is in the Choc , a department that has experienced significant armed conflict.