Good as gold: How Fairtrade jewellery in Hackney is helping miners in developing countries

You’ve probably heard of Fairtrade bananas, coffee and chocolate. But Fairtrade gold?

Most people give scant regard to where the expensive trinkets twinkling on fingers, ears and wrists come from, but in all probability it’s so-called ‘dirty gold’ – the end product of an unforgiving industry that sees miners undertake back-breaking, often unregulated and potentially lethal work to extract the precious metal from the land.

Communities neighbouring the mines fare little better from the industry, with leached cyanide and mercury – the toxic chemicals used to extract the gold from its ore – leaving a devastating impact on the local environment, especially the water supply, and its people.

However, the ethical gold trade is a little-known but growing force in the UK and around the world. Like the Fairtrade food business, it sees those working in developing countries, where most gold is mined, receive a fair price for the work they do, as well ensuring regulated working conditions.

The Rock Hound, in Mare Street, Hackney Central, is one of just a few hundred registered UK jewellers that uses Fairtrade precious metals and stones in its designs.

Founder and designer, Susi Smither, 36, said: “It is crucial these miners get support, especially when you think of the disparity between mine and market, we owe it to the miners whose livelihood it is to mine for the goods that we adorn ourselves with.”

Susi, a Hopton School of Jewellery graduate and Fellow of The Gemmological Association of Great Britain, set up her studio in May last year. This month she unveiled her first fully Fairtrade-registered collection, called GoldRush, designs based on gold nuggets, the metals for which come from artisanal Fairtrade mines in Peru.

The register ensures that strict requirements are met on working conditions, health and safety, chemical-handling, women’s rights, child labour, and the environment.

The launch of the collection coincided with Fairtrade Fortnight, a burst of activity between 29 February and 13 March, aimed at promoting Fairtrade.

Locally it is led by the Hackney Fairtrade Group, a community organisation that is supported by Hackney Council and chaired by Cllr Clare Potter. This year, as well as holding a Business Network Breakfast for local Fairtrade companies, members brought Fairtrade to residents by holding stalls, tastings and events in Hackney libraries, churches and mosques, a local play street; and held workshops for primary school children.

Kelly Sears, year 3 teacher from Gainsborough Primary School, said: "We really enjoyed learning about the importance of Fairtrade around the world and we had a wonderful time taking part in the workshop at the Hackney Museum. The workshop helped us to understand the types of important decisions that Fairtrade farmers have to make on a daily basis in order to make a living.

“We were overwhelmed by the amount of Fairtrade products that are available in the shops. Although these are often a little more expensive we would encourage people to buy them to ensure that the farmers improved living and working conditions can continue.”


Cllr Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, Hackney Council
Raising awareness of Fairtrade and the importance of being an ethical consumer is a key component of our work. By talking to our young people about the benefits of Fairtrade, we hope to encourage them to live responsibly and to help in a practical way to make this world a better place.
Cllr Jonathan McShane, Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture, Hackney Council

Fairtrade in Hackney is also becoming increasingly more self-conscious. The borough first achieved Fairtrade status in 2008, having hit five goals set by the Fairtrade Foundation aimed at ensuring a better deal for farmers and workers in poorer countries. That status was renewed in September last year following a stream of outreach work.

This year, the Mayor of Hackney’s Business Awards saw its first-ever Fairtrade Award, which was won by Liberation Foods - a Hackney-based nut company, 44 per cent of which is owned by smallholder producers in Bolivia, El Salvador, India, Malawi and Nicaragua.

Thanks to Liberation’s regular, reliable, sustainably-priced purchases and the Fairtrade premium, farmers are able to invest in their businesses, communities and families.

But what does it mean to residents?

Martin Pedrick, sales director at Liberation, summed it up: “Consumers are becoming more and more aware of the social and economic impact of their purchases on primary producers and more and more connected to the provenance of what they buy and consume, which is a good thing.

“Our mission is to bring producers and consumers together so that everyone gets a better deal.”

Find out more about the Hackney Fairtrade GroupFairtrade FoundationThe Rock Hound; and Liberation Foods.