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Just make sure it’s fairtrade
Often i have nights when i complain that i’m so tired i feel as though i’ve been working down a mine all day.
Like most people, i have no concept how hard people usually in the developing world and mainly female work to bring us luxury goods.But now that i am in a gold mining village called santa filomena, in the middle of the desert in peru, i’m beginning to get the idea.
Mine shafts are given female names, but it’s forbidden for women to enter them, which is why they are relegated to the back breaking work of grading rubble on the surface.
Miners in cotapata, bolivia:Liz jones visited them at work to see where our jewellery comes from
When i get special permission to enter one of the mine shafts called ‘diana’ i have no idea how anyone could work there.
Dark, dusty and sometimes wet, it keeps making me think of the chilean gold miners who were trapped for 69 days.The only light is from my helmet and there are steep, dark drops to seams below us in the mountain.
I develop a groucho marx gait.I suffer, by turns, from vertigo and claustrophobia.It’s not good.
Over the past few years, thanks to a movie starring leonardo dicaprio and a high profile trial of a former african dictator, we have become familiar with the term ‘blood diamonds’ gems mined by workers in terrible conditions that are traded to fund the arms trade.But we know little about where the rest of our jewellery comes from.
The reason i am in peru is to see the first fairtrade and fairmined gold extracted from the rock.
There are no big chunks of gold in these mines, just dust that has to be extracted by a complicated method involving grinding the rock to a powder(This is done by men rocking giant flat stones, just as would have been done in the time of the incas)Before treating it with mercury or cyanide.
Precious:Miners work for hours to find the gold that will make up rings like these
To be rated fairtrade and fairmined, the chemicals are not allowed to enter the ecosystem.
The village of santa filomena is one of only nine groups in peru, bolivia, ecuador and colombia in the world producing fairtrade gold.
The difference between this village, home to 3, 000 people, and the neighbouring village of san luis, which is not fairtrade, is enormous.
In san luis, there are opencast mines next to where the children play.Houses are made of old rice sacks.The miners are on desperately low wages, there is no creche and no safety rules for the handling of chemicals and dynamite.Child labour is rife.
‘My children are thin and small.I’m always worried, ‘ says yessica, a miner and a mother of two.I find it hard to believe given that the price of gold has soared from $320 an ounce in 1999 to $1, 400 last year that anyone involved in the industry is poverty stricken.
But, of course, these miners receive just a fraction of the metal’s worth in the west.
Santa filomena, on the other hand, is almost too good to be true.Fairtrade miners earn $350 a month.
There are shops, a health clinic, sick pay, maternity leave and rapidly improving sanitation.There is no running water giant plastic containers are driven to the village.There are proper wooden houses instead michael kors outlet uk of slums.There is a creche and a school.
I speak to paulina, 25, who toils alongside me sorting the rubble and who has invited me to her home to meet her children, jennifer, nearly three, and shamel, five.Her husband is also a miner.
Paulina came here with her parents to find work.Her house is two rooms, with a tiny stove out back and a coop of chickens.What does she want her children to be when they grow up?
Up to 2.7 billion people in the world survive on less than 1.25 a day, according to the World Bank
‘I don’t want them to be miners like me.But at least they get an education there is a way out.’
A couple of days later, i land in la paz, the capital of bolivia and the highest city in the world.
I am to visit a mine in the cotapata national park, deep in the rainforest, where gold is mined not only to fairtrade standards, but earns an extra 5 per cent for being 100 per cent environmentally friendly, too.
I walk for three hours through the jungle at a height of 5, 000m, which means there is little oxygen, though i’m proud to say i out pace 26 year old product manager gemma, who has been working with the miners to prepare them for a launch at hatton garden, the centre of london’s gold trade, for the past four years.
I can hardly believe there is a mine in this remote place, so unobtrusive is it.While the big mining corporations will blow up a mountainside, these artisanal miners respect the environment.
This mine straddles a river.This means the shaft is wet, which can be hazardous, causing michael kors bags outlet rock falls.