Philippine Daily Inquirer
Anti-mining advocates inspired by Latin America’s ‘green gold’ fair trade
BAGUIO CITY—WHAT COULD make the world’s staunchest critics of commercial mining pause and evaluate a mechanism that could bring the status of small-scale gold producers at par with corporatemines?
The International Women and Mining Network (RIMM or Red Internacional Mujeres y Mineria) explored this week Latin America’s 2010 experiment with a Fair Trade Artisanal Gold Standard or “green gold,” that adds a premium to commercial gold that is extracted and processed by small-scale mining communities.
Olinda Orosco, the RIMM’s Peruvian representative, says the fair trade standard was pi- loted in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. It was officially introduced to the international community in April as an independent quality standard that opens up a larger market for poor miners.
Gold buyers, who invest in the more expensive green gold (also referred to as “clean gold”), expect 10 percent of these profits to be returned as a social premium to poor communities that produced them, Orosco says during RIMM’s strategy workshop at Camp John Hay onMonday.
The website, www.fairtrade.org.uk, says green gold “allows miners’ organizations to improve the technology and working conditions at their mines, and also develop community projects in education, health, environmental restoration and other forms of income.”
“Artisanal (or gold meant to produce products like jewelry) and small-scale miners produce just 15 percent of global gold supplies, but make up 90 percent of labor in gold extraction. Through fair trade and fair mined certification, miners can improve their economic, social and environmental conditions,” it says.
How green gold applies to Asia, particularly the Philippines, was a point of concern for RIMM, said Vernie YocoganDiano, regional coordinator of the party-list group Gabriela and chair of Innabuyog, a women’s rights group.
Diano says the fair trade gold standard tries to resolve the argument that corporate mines and governments supporting them fail to provide direct subsidies to mining towns that suffer most the social and environmental impact of extractive mining operations.
But Barbara Gala, the Italian head of RIMM’s international secretariat, says many groups opposed to commercial mining have not completely accepted this alternative economic program.
For a Philippine fair trade standard to work in the provinces, mining communities must be strong enough to compete with big corporations, Diano says.
“We asked RIMM’s Latin American members to document the progress of green gold so we can understand how it really works. We can’t be sure [if it applies to Asia] because we don’t know if it is [Latin America’s] system of government which makes mining communities bond together well, or whether their culture makes for strong mining organizations,” she says.
Santos Mero, a small-scale miner, says indigenous mining techniques would benefit from a green gold standard because the label pays attention to the environmental soundness of the extraction process.
Orosco says the fair trade standard for gold requires miners to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in processing gold.
Benguet gave birth to commercial mining a century ago, whichwas developed into an industry by the American colonial government after it documented a thriving small-scale gold panning trade here.
Mero, also deputy secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), says indigenous technology for mining has always been community-driven and ecologically friendly, until modern technology encouraged mercury-reliant gold processing and individualism.
Lomino Kaniteng, president of the Benguet Federation of Small Scale Miners, shares Melo’s optimism.
But Kaniteng says government must first review its smallscale mining policy because it has failed to regulate the industry since 1984.
“But if the question is would [a fair trade gold standard] be feasible here? I think it would,” Mero says.
He says Cordillera miners have strong historic ties with the mining industry. For example, the American government gave birth in 1903 to the Benguet Corp., the first Philippine mine.
But Diano says the commercial drive for gold left Benguet “the most mined-out province in the Philippines,” leaving small-scale miners to scavenge for the operations’ scrap.
According to the records of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), only three big mines (Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co., Philex Mining Corp. and Benguet Corp.) operate in the Cordillera.
Abner Villanueva, spokesperson of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in the Cordillera, says there are eight abandoned or non-performing mine sites in the region.
There are four registered small-scale mining operations in the region, although Kaniteng estimates that over 22,000 licensed and unlicensed pocket miners operate in Benguet alone.
During the first quarter, the Cordillera mines produced P1.44 billion worth of gold, P27.16 million worth of silver and P884.15 million worth of copper concentrate.