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Fairtrade Gold From Mines In Africa Saves Millions of Lives and Reduces Mercury Pollution

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Gold mining in Geita, TanzaniaGold mining in many regions of Africa is one of the leading industries on the continent, with nearly 99% of all gold output being exported to Europe, Asia and America . Finding gold, however, is associated with shocking work conditions, extreme mercury pollution and horrific exploitation of child labor. But the Fairtrade International says this has got to change.

In east Africa, gold is extracted by burning and evaporating mercury, which releases toxic fumes, causing devastating health effects on local workers. People with memory problems and impaired vision are so common to see, that it might even be considered normal. But mercury poisoning is not the only problem the industry has. Illegal workers, many of them children, unlicensed mines, and 24-hour working shifts with no proper safety equipment, all these characterize a typical African gold mine.

Last week, however, Fairtrade International announced a new scheme, through which Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, three of the biggest African gold producers and exporters, will be extracting ethical gold by mid-2014. Funded by the UK initiative Comic Relief, the Fairtrade scheme aims to ban child labor, introduce health and safety rules and put an end to mercury and cyanide river and air pollution. This of course will result in a slight increase in the price of the precious metal across Europe, Asia and America, but saving around 15 million people, who work in mines in Tanzania alone, is the biggest priority. The revenue can then be invested in education, health and child care, or brought back to the mines in order to improve further the working conditions.

In order to get funding through the Fairtrade scheme, and receive the needed certification, mines have to completely ban open-air mercury burning and child labor. All other conditions are still under debate.

Some mines in Tanzania, near the village of Nyarugusu, have already started implementing the new regulations. Children have been banned from working, safety equipment is compulsory and open burning of mercury is a subject of enormous fines. Although the change is a bit slow due to lack of funds, it is shocking to know that some of the workers wear helmets, gloves and boots for a first time since they have started to work in the industry. In addition, toxic water no longer pollutes the environment.

Fairtrade gold has been sold on European market by South Africa, at a slightly higher price. The miners receive a Fairtrade premium based on the amount of produced gold, which has to be invested back in the local community.

According to Fairtrade’s local advisers, the efficiency of gold recovery from the African mines should be improved, by introducing new technology. In addition, Fairtrade should ensure that overseas suppliers receive the “green” precious metal.

Everyone is certain that the change will be slow, but addressing and tackling the problem will have to receive the highest priority now.

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