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Pure gold: fighting for ethical jewellery

Greg Valerio, founder of the ethical jewellery business CRED, is now leading the Fairtrade gold project to benefit small scale miners and their communities ...

Greg Valerio, founder of the ethical jewellery business CRED, is now leading the Fairtrade gold project to benefit small scale miners and their communities. SHARON BARNARD reports

Examine that sparkling ring on your finger or the gold chain around your neck. It’s unlikely you – or even your jeweller – will know much about the gold that went into it. Much less about the people who risked their lives to mine it.

In his book Making Trouble: fighting for fairtrade jewellery, fairtrade campaigner Greg Valerio describes how his ethical jewellery business CRED got off the ground. He also uncovers the dirty secrets beneath the glamorous gem, silver and gold industries –  corruption, exploitation, child labour, dangerous working practices, environmental damage and much more.

The poverty and injustice he’s seen all over the world has made him weep. It has also made him angry.

“Bob Geldof once said to me: ‘Crying about something doesn’t change anything; getting angry about things might.’

“Righteous anger targeted at injustice can purify a complexity quickly. We need more angry people!”
Greg was labelled a troublemaker at school and went off the rails as a young man. One day, while sitting outside Turnham Green tube station, he had a life-changing vision of Jesus.

“Jesus said: ‘I want you to follow me. I have a job for you to do’.”

Named Campaigner of the Year in the 2011 Observer Ethical Awards (photo above), Greg describes himself as “a contemplative activist” and is inspired by what the Bible says about redemption – of people and the environment.

“In Revelation 21:15-21 in the vision of the new Jerusalem, the gold is as ‘transparent as glass’. This must refer to its essential properties because gold is not transparent.

“That has been a huge motivator. In the jewellery industry we should be aiming for 100% transparency. Righteousness and transparency – to benefit the people of the earth, not greedy companies.”

In recent months, Greg has been meeting with key industry stakeholders to agree how to pioneer and grow the Fairtrade gold programme. This will bring greater benefits to impoverished and small scale miners who are frequently ripped off.

He is also fighting to change dangerous and unethical practices right along the gold supply chain – from the miner to the retailer, “to bring honour to the Creator and justice for the oppressed”.

For instance, miners are often exposed to toxic mercury and cyanide, routinely used to separate gold from rock. It wreaks havoc on the human body as well as the environment.

“Mercury doesn’t degrade. It’s a neurotoxin and it gets into water systems, algae, fish, and then humans eat the fish,” Greg explains.

“Cyanide does degrade, but thousands of tons of this toxic chemical are moved around and there have been leaks.”

Simple measures such as providing protective gear and the use of inexpensive ‘retorts’, which allow miners to burn mercury without breathing in the deadly fumes and contaminating the environment, are making a difference.

He says: “The real challenge is the big deficit in transparency and traceability. Transparency is like light – it doesn’t change anything, it just reveals what’s there.

“Traceability is putting it right. I have to look the customer in the eye to say where [the gold] is coming from. It’s solutions that we lack.

“In the early days of CRED we worked out what the problems were. Putting the right thing in place was the mountain to climb.”

He describes the long journey working with others to bring ‘green gold’ to the market and obtain the ‘Fairtrade and Fairmined’ stamp on their fully traceable gold.

“I would like fairtrade gold to be the default purchase for wedding rings. I would like to see the UK market selling two to three tons of fairtrade gold a year. It’s 600 kilos at the moment.

“Right now there are only about 50 UK jewellers who are selling fairtrade gold, but this will grow as demand for it increases.

“We want people to go into jewellers and ask for it.”

Find out more about fairtrade gold at www.credjewellery.com
www.fairtrade.org.uk/gold
www.fairjewelry.org

  • Making Trouble: fighting for fairtrade jewellery (Lion Hudson) is available for £8 inc p&p from www.valeriobooks.com

Photos: Top: at the 2011 Observer Ethical Awards, from left: Colin Firth, Greg Valerio, Livia Firth, Lucy Siegle and fairtrade gold miner Ameriko

Above: Ameriko and Tito from Oro Verde, Colombia, at work

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