CREDIT: All photos &copy; 2008 <a href="">Alejandro Cock-Peláez</a>.
CREDIT: All photos © 2008 Alejandro Cock-Peláez.

Policy Innovations Digital Magazine (2006-2016): Innovations: The Green Gold Story

Jan 2, 2007

When I first visited Chocó, Colombia, I was shocked to see how mining could transform a lush tropical rain forest of countless colors and sounds into a landscape eerily similar to the moon—arid, silent, and dead. I couldn't understand how people literally sitting on top of a gold mine could die of hunger.

The culprit was easy to identify—uncontrolled mining. Not just in Chocó, but all over the world, uncontrolled mining is responsible for rapid deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water, air, and soil contamination. It threatens food security and public health. Within the artisan small-scale mining (ASM) community, poverty and exclusion are all too prevalent.

For hundreds of years, the traditional Afro-Colombian communities of Condoto and Tadó have responded by organizing community councils to administer their collective lands and by practicing responsible mining techniques that foster harmony and coexistence between nature and people.

Over the years, these Community Councils refined strategies for miner outreach and organizing. They have a clear vision of what their future should look like and a precise understanding of what sustainability and development mean. Finally, they know their social structure and their ecosystem better than anyone else does.

Yet, until recently, they lacked a voice to tell the world about the negative consequences of uncontrolled, mechanized mining implemented by outsiders. They lacked access to information and green and fair markets. Consequently, they couldn't benefit from the many opportunities globalization offers to advance economic and social justice.

We knew something had to change. How could we create a model based on their local, ancestral knowledge of sustainable use of natural resources, yet take it one step further? Could we link local communities with the rest of the globe through communications and trade for the benefit of these communities?

The Amichoco Foundation and Corporacion Oro Verde developed the Certified Green Gold Program (GGP) in Chocó, Colombia, and are expanding it to other regions of the world. GGP provides a sustainable development alternative for underprivileged communities by fostering fair trade practices and ten certification criteria as a guarantee of socially and environmentally responsible ASM. Certified gold and platinum are sold to local and international fair trade and green markets, and miners receive a bonus on the market value of gold.

Since we began, nearly 1,400 miners have joined the GGP. Together, they protect about 7,900 hectares of one of the world's most bio-diverse forests. Green Gold miners are making significant improvements in their living standards. They are receiving better prices for their metals, diversifying their productive activities and increasing their food security. Moreover, their leadership and organizational skills are stronger, and miners are now recognized as responsible citizens who actively contribute to the well-being of their communities and their ecosystems' health.

From our small beginnings, we've grown into an organization with international reach. Along the way, we've received much recognition for our innovative work, including being elected an Ashoka Fellow as a leading social entrepreneur. Ashoka envisions a world in which everyone is a changemaker—this vision rings true for our work.

Behind almost every door we knock on, we find volunteers, people with new ideas, or jewelers who want to deal directly with the miners and buy Green Gold. We find refiners providing services as part of their corporate social responsibility, media interested in covering positive stories, and NGOs wishing to implement complementary projects. We find traders who develop business strategies, universities who want to validate our processes with research, and consumers who further the cause by simply buying Green Gold.

The convergence of these forces has allowed the GGP to flourish. But there is still a long road ahead. ASM employs an estimated 11 to 13 million people. But according to the International Labour Organization, between 80 and 100 million depend on it as part of their diversified or seasonal livelihood. Only through a coordinated effort between stakeholders will green and fair markets become a trend, and thus an effective vehicle toward economic justice for small-scale mining communities around the world.

Toward this end, a network of independent organizations established the Association for Responsible Mining (ARM) in 2004. ARM is an independent, global effort created as an international and multi-institutional organization to bring credibility, transparency, and legitimacy to the development of a framework for responsible artisanal and small-scale mining. It seeks to expand on the successes of the GGP in terms of scalability and replicability.

ARM convened a technical committee in 2006 to develop Fair Trade Standards for Gold. The committee is comprised of numerous stakeholders, each with extensive experience in ASM and fair trade certification, including occupational health and safety, environmental management, child labor and gender issues, emergency preparedness and response, clean production, ecological restoration practices, and good governance.

Pilot projects will be launched in Latin America in 2007. ARM is currently designing its strategy for Africa and Asia. Having developed a pilot for the gold market, ARM aims to develop similar projects for other metals and gems. We are acting locally to empower communities and thinking globally to align with a rapidly growing consumer segment that wants their ethical values reflected in the products they buy. Miners and consumers alike will benefit.

The GGP demonstrates to the world that turning a profit and advancing social justice need not be opposing forces. Partnerships, based on shared values and trust, are the engine of such processes, furthered by the channels of communications and trade. When I look back to when I first saw the devastation caused by the mining in Chocó, I find comfort in the successes of Green Gold.

Cock Duque is founder and advisor of the Green Gold Initiative.

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