Today the word recycled conjures notions of positive change, a more conscious consumer and a circular economy. According to the World Gold Council, above ground stocks of gold total 197,576 tonnes and therefore, in an ideal world jewellers would only use recycled gold in the creation of new jewellery. However, there are multiple factors that complicate the ethics of "recycled gold" and it is therefore important for us at Pascale James, as designer-makers to clarify exactly why we choose not to use "recycled gold" in the crafting of our designs, instead sourcing Fairtrade gold, that which we deem to be the most ethical choice.
Recycled gold has recently become synonymous with ethical and sustainable jewellery but the process of recycling is not at all a new phenomenon. The jewellery industry has recycled its metal since artisans first started working with gold hundreds of years ago. The process for scrapping gold (i.e. recycling), is simply standard practice within the industry and all jewellers recycle the metal value back through the refiner or bullion house.
Recycling doesn't decrease demand
When looking at the most sustainable approach to making jewellery and the materials involved, it is not as simple as turning to recycled gold to remove the need for mining because quite simply, recycling gold does not reduce the demand for mining it. The mining of gold will take place regardless of how much recycled gold goes into jewellery, it is simply too valuable and it will always be worth somebody's efforts to mine it.
It is important to understand that recycling gold is not the same as recycling plastic for example. Recycling works by reducing demand for materials which in turn decreases production of them. This process however, cannot be applied to gold as the demand for gold is so high that it can likely never be reduced to a point where people stop mining it.
Perhaps even more prevalent here is the clarity surrounding the ethics of "recycled gold" itself, particularly the lack of traceability of recycled gold. Recycled gold is just not possible to trace, it can only be certified recycled. Therefore, when you see recycled gold jewellery advertised as ethical or sustainable, you are seeing information that is not entirely transparent as this gold could have been extracted in the last 12 years or in fact, in the last 12 months and there is no way to tell. This is an issue, especially when considering the ethics behind a given material - there is a high likelihood that the "recycled gold" you're purchasing has been extracted in a way that harmed people and planet and moreover, this process could have taken place in recent months. Recycled gold has no positive impact on the horrors of child labour, economic exploitation and illicit trading, environmental degradation through cyanide or mercury use, resultant deforestation, mine collapse and the health and safety risks faced by gold mining communities across the world. We have to consider the traumas of the gold mining industry and that these atrocities have lasting repercussions for many generations.
Pascale James & Fairtrade Gold
This is why at Pascale James, we choose to work only with Fairtrade gold in the making of our pieces. We have to be absolutely certain about the origin of our materials in order to know whether they are truly responsibly mined and ethical. Fairtrade Gold can be traced from the mine through the refining process and into finished products. This is backed up by documentation of all transactions between miners and licensed jewellers. It means consumers and jewellers know that the gold in products carrying the Fairtrade Gold Stamp comes from a socially and environmentally responsible source which has economic benefits for miners.
Fairtrade Gold is sourced exclusively from mines which meet the Fairtrade Gold Standard, an internationally recognised marker of best-practice supporting improvements with artisanal and small-scale mines. Fairtrade are working with nearly 50 artisanal and small-scale miner sites in Peru, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and only mines that do not use child labour can be Fairtrade certified. Miners must put a Child Protection Policy in place and work to prevent child labour. Alongside this, 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. Workers receive a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price for their gold as well as an extra amount of money on top known as Fairtrade Premium, to spend on improving their businesses and community. Fairtrade certified mines are audited by FLOCERT.