“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
– J. R. Tolkien
Jakarta, June 7, 2021 — Legendary fiction writer J.R. Tolkien wrote the famous quote in his classic work, ‘Lord of The Rings’, as a reference to the wise saying — nothing ever appears as it seems. And nothing can be further from the truth with our gold and jewelry industry.
All of us may be dazzled by gold jewelry, but very few of us realize the hard labor, and hazardous conditions faced by the small and artisanal gold miners in the developing world. The most hazardous form of all is the highly toxic mercury which can lead to physical and neurological damages. Unfortunately, mercury use is still rampant among artisanal gold miners around the world, including Indonesia. The South East Asian nation is among the world’s top ten mercury use countries in artisanal gold mines. Key to eliminating the use of mercury is improved awareness and regulations on ethical practices in the jewelry industry, where most of the gold demand comes from.
Amid growing calls for ethical sourcing of precious metals, and in support of more responsible mining practices, UNDP, in partnership with Indonesia’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) recently hosted a webinar which explored the link between responsible artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and the jewelry industry.
The virtual webinar featured panelists from BPPT, key players in the gold and jewelry sector and UNDP Indonesia’s Global Opportunities for Long-term Development of Artisanal Small-Scale Gold Mining (GOLD-ISMIA) project. The five-year project aims to combat mercury use among artisanal miners in six Indonesia’s provinces.
With funding from the Global Environment facility, the GOLD-ISMIA project, aims to curb the use of mercury by at least 15 tons by 2023. The project also works on improving the lives of mining communities, along with other parties to the Minamata Convention on mercury. The Convention is an international treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from the danger of mercury and its compounds
Indonesia’s artisanal and small-scale gold mining sector is also plagued by other socio-economic challenges such as illegal mining, lack of labor rights as well as child labor and gender inequality. For example, a recent assessment revealed that among 300,000 small-scale miners, 30 percent were women and in 2020, 31 miners were children.
“Working with the Government, we are developing a national standard for mercury-free gold mining and providing a strong foundation for miners to be licensed and to formally access the market which strengthen their bargaining power and help increase income”, Ms. Sophie Kemkhadze, UNDP Indonesia Deputy Resident Representative.
Combatting mercury use requires technological innovation and the GOLD-ISMIA project has been developing micro-leaching tanks as an alternative to the use of mercury, she added.
Mr. Rudi Nugroho, Director of the Center for Mineral Resources Development Technology of BPPT, noted that the technological approach can succeed only in combination with other factors to help reduce and eliminate the use of mercury. This includes policy interventions, providing access to financial products and institutions, raising awareness of the danger of mercury, and developing a national standard for gold mined from ASGM, formalization, and linking the miners to the market actors.
Ms. Christina Miller, Founder of the Eponymous Consultancy suggested that jewelers can help incentivize gold miners to reduce mercury use and prioritize environmental protection and worker safety thereby stabilizing the communities’ lives.
"In reality is that we can make mining practices more sustainable, by increasing employment opportunities for women and helping protect people and care for the environment," she said.
Ms. Meri Geraldine Orth, CEO of artisanal jewelry company, Gardens of the Sun, echoed her remarks. Her company prides itself on being a company that operates with a focus on women. The Bali-based entrepreneur outsources ethical gold from ten indigenous women miners from Central Kalimantan.
“Besides reflecting the business value, this ethical jewelry practice also benefits the business. It increases brand reputation and provides a unique marketing opportunity because we have photos and videos of the gold material and the miners," said Ms. Orth.
National Project Manager GOLD-ISMIA Ms. Baiq Dewi Krisnayanti said that access to a better-paying market is key to increasing the sustainability of the ASGM.
"The miners’ limited capital to meet operating costs and daily needs has led their need for quick cash," she noted.
Looking ahead, the government continued support’s for responsible mining is central to ethical gold certification, which can mediate the companies’ requirements to outsource their gold from the ASGM sector according to their standard, Ms. Baiq added.
Writing by GOLD-ISMIA team.
Edited by Ranjit Jose and Suryo Tomi.