Fairtrade Gold v’s Recycled gold?  What’s the Difference?

Are you in the market to purchase a handmade wedding or engagement ring and ethical options are high on your list of priorities?

Are you unsure which ethical choices are the right ones or worried about greenwashing?  You may be confused about the different types of ‘eco’ gold and want some clarification.

Firstly, as a B-Corp artisanal goldsmith and honouree ‘Best of The World for 2022’, it is clear that doing the right thing is important to me and I want to help you make the best decision possible.

Before I begin, you should know that, as a maker of ethical wedding and engagement rings, in 2015 I decided to only work with Fairtrade gold.

Keep reading and I will tell you why…

fairtrade_gold logo

Fairtrade Gold

Most of you will be familiar with the Fairtrade logo. It is the most universally recognised ethical labelling system and one you know you can trust. An impressive 93% of UK shoppers recognise and rely on it when deciding whether a product is ethical.

Fairtrade gold is known as Gold With Heart

Fairtrade gold is physically traced from its mine of origin to the final product you purchase. A transparent supply chain is essential if you want to guarantee your gold jewellery was produced ethically and sustainably sourced.

Fairtrade Gold means the men and women who mine this most precious mineral are cared about, along with the environment surrounding the mines they work in. No other type of gold can boast these credentials (apart from Fairmined, a similar scheme primarily used in the US).

Gold mines can be hazardous places, with miners working in structurally insecure pits without protective gear and using harmful chemicals such as mercury to recover gold. Mercury causes serious health problems, congenital disabilities and contaminates local water supplies. 

a sheet of Fairtrade Gold

What Makes Fairtrade Gold Different? 

Fairtrade Gold is sourced exclusively from mines that meet the Fairtrade Gold standard, it is an internationally recognised marker of best-practice. The Fairtrade Gold Standard includes strict requirements on working conditions, health and safety, handling chemicals, women’s rights, child labour and protection of the environment including water sources and forests.  

Additionally, workers in the Fairtrade Certified Gold mining communities receive a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price for their product. Many claim that before the certification, they relied on go-betweens who paid them so little for their gold they could not feed their families.

The Certified mines receive a fair minimum price of 95% of the London gold price from their source.

They also receive a social premium, meaning the community gets an extra $2000 to $6000 per kilo of gold, where they collectively decide how to spend the money. Often it is used for much-needed schools, hospitals, wells for fresh drinking water etc.

CECOMSAP miners having lunch Peru
CECOMSAP Fairtrade Gold mine in Peru
Fairtrade Gold miners in Peru
Hallmark and Fairtrade gold stamp

The first Fairtrade Gold was available from Feb 14th, 2011

Fairtrade mines are strictly audited every four years to check they meet the standard of care required.  Fairtrade goldsmiths, such as myself, are also audited every four years.

Ethical gold rings and other jewellery made with Fairtrade gold bear a Fairtrade Gold mark alongside the hallmark.  Can you see it on the far right?

The overall objective of this standard is to create opportunities for artisanal and small-scale miners and their communities. The aim is to improve working conditions for miners and their families.

Is recycled gold an ethical choice?

It is important to note that due to the high value of gold, it has been recycled since it was first discovered. This has nothing to do with ethics but more because of its economic value. In the last decade, it has been rebranded as ethical or eco, but in truth, nothing about the use of recycled gold within the jewellery industry has changed.  

By using recycled gold, many jewellers claim that it will help diminish the negative impacts of dirty gold by reducing the demand for the newly mined metal. But based on the fact above, it doesn’t exactly ring true does it?

So at first glance, it seems that recycled gold is a perfect solution for jewellers who want to separate themselves from mining’s negative image. But sadly, using recycled gold, which was initially unethically mined, has done zero to reduce the amount of newly mined gold, and is not bringing any progress to an essentially unethical industry.

The other issue I have with recycled gold is that it cannot be traced. How do you know that it wasn’t originally used to fund wars or perhaps even worse? As it is untraceable, we have no idea if this was once dirty gold now recycled and rebranded as ‘eco’.

I think at very best, the most you can say about it is it may have a neutral impact in some circumstances.

It is essentially up to you to decide which works best for you and I hope I have helped make it a little bit clearer.

Fairtrade Gold v’s Recycled Gold – which choice will you make?

Shakti Ellenwood is a leading authority on ethics within the jewellery industry. She creates artisanal wedding and engagement rings, along with other gold amulets and is currently B-Corps highest scoring jeweller in the UK.

Her gold is currently from the CECOMSAP mining community in Peru.

Her work has been featured in Vogue, Wallpaper Magazine, Vanity Fair and Forbes to name a few.