KAMPALA, Uganda: The certification of the Syanyonja Artisan Miners’ Alliance (SAMA) has helped improve the livelihoods of the community that mines gold around Lake Victoria, The Cooperator News can reveal.
SAMA was the first artisanal small scale mining co-operative in Africa to become Fairtrade certified. The certification has in our discovery brought the much-anticipated hope for development.
The certification led to the initial sell of the Cooperatives first Kilogram of Gold to the UK.
SAMA is the first Ugandan mining cooperative on African soil to be awarded the Fairtrade certification for its gold. SAMA received financial support from Trade for Development (TDC) to improve the management of the organisation, to develop more sustainable production techniques (extracting gold without the use of mercury) and to facilitate access to the international market (marketing coaching), which is now starting to pay off.
SAMA is one of nine previously informal groups from East Africa to have benefitted from a pilot project launched by Fairtrade in 2013, which aimed to extend the benefits of Fairtrade gold to artisanal miners in the region.
Located in remote eastern Uganda district of Busia, at the shores of Lake Victoria, SAMA has three objectives: better administration and management within the SAMA miners’ organisation, sustainable production techniques (without mercury) and access to the international Fairtrade gold market. The cooperatives currently has over 600 members
Over the last three years, SAMA members have undergone training in business and entrepreneurship, as well as labour rights, better working conditions, health and safety and more. The co-operative produces just 5 kg of gold per year, but has the potential to significantly benefit many people in the local community through better conditions and the Fairtrade Premium.
Gonzaga Mungai the Gold Manager Fairtrade Africa said Fairtrade, along with other ethical jewellery organizations such as Cred Jewellery, have supported the miners so their gold can be refined and made available to jewellers in the UK and other markets.
“This is a truly momentous and historical achievement and the realization of a dream that is many years in the making,” said Gonzaga Mungai. In a release, Gonzaga said: “Gold production is an important source of income for people in rural economies. Congratulations to SAMA, it sets a precedent which shows that if groups like this can achieve certification, then it can work for others right across the African continent.”
Artisanal smallscale mining is the second biggest employer in Africa, but is also one of the world’s most dangerous industries. Exploitation is rife, and miners earn as little as shs4,000 ($1) per day, often becoming indebted to their dealer. The lack of monitoring systems for the production and trade of the minerals leads to transactions via illegal comptoirs and clandestine export to neighbouring countries.
Fairtrade gold was first launched in 2011, and SAMA now joins Fairtrade certified gold mines MACDESA, AURELSA and SOTRAMI in Peru. The Fairtrade Gold Standard encourages better practice and changes to come in line with international regulation around the production and trade of so-called ‘conflict minerals’.
What are the standards?
Gold buyers require that a certain standard be maintained so as to keep the trade in gold fair. Among the key parameters are: miners are required to uphold human rights policy preventing war crimes, bribery, money laundering and child labour, which remains practically impossible in most gold mines in Uganda.
The miners, also prior to export have an obligation of stating clearly where the gold was mined from. On top of this, they (miners) have to minimize the risks of conflict minerals through robust risk assessments and collaboration across the various supply chains and are required to report buyers and trading partners engaging in risks of conflict minerals.
For a long time companies have avoided buying gold from Uganda and surrounding regions, with devastating consequences for impoverished communities who were already struggling. It has driven trade deeper underground, as unscrupulous buyers pay lower prices and launder illegal gold into legitimate supply chains.
Gonzaga said it is for this reason that Fairtrade Africa has chosen to work with these groups to help them earn more from their gold within a robust compliance system that offers social, environmental, and economic protections.”