Rigorously documenting exports from small-scale sites boosts miners’ revenue, gives buyers ethical certainty
The work is exhausting and dangerous. Under the harsh sun on the side of a Congolese mountain, men and women dig rocks from a crude pit, crush them with hammers and wash them in a muddy river, searching for tiny flakes of gold. For this gruelling labour, the hardscrabble miners earn an average of just 94 cents (U.S.) a day.
It’s a long journey from these mountain shafts to a boutique jeweller in downtown Toronto, where the rough nuggets are transformed into engagement rings and wedding bands. But under a new Canadian ethical-trade program, the mine workers will have a chance at a higher income. And consumers will have precise proof – for the first time – that their gold jewellery is free from the taint of war or corruption.
In late May, a passenger named Joanne Lebert carried an unusual item in her hand luggage on the lengthy flight from eastern Congo to Toronto. In a sealed bag inside a glass jar, she carried 238 grams of gold, purchased from small-scale mining sites near the remote town of Mambasa.
Those 238 grams are believed to be the most rigorously documented export of small-scale gold in history. A thick dossier of dozens of export permits and tax receipts went with the gold, proving it was a fully legal sale, rather than a “conflict mineral” from a mine controlled by soldiers, armed militias or corrupt officials.
“This can be revolutionary,” says Ms. Lebert, executive director of Partnership Africa Canada, the Ottawa-based organization that is pioneering the new system of gold exports. “Nobody else is doing it. We can shake up the industry. And we think it can be applicable to almost any commodity: diamonds, timber or coffee.”
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