Mongolian fair trade gold reaches markets the world over

Article, 10.05.2016

Until recently the miners of XAMODX were considered criminals. As of March 2016, they supply responsibly-mined gold to over a hundred jewellery brands. XAMODX is the first NGO in Asia to receive Fairmined certification for its sustainably-mined gold.

A young miner holding out mined gold ore.
A member of XAMODX in one of the pilot plants that do not use mercury to extract gold. © SDC

The NGO XAMODX, supported by the SDC as part of the Sustainable Artisanal Mining Project in Mongolia (SAM), is the first Mongolian NGO to have received Fairmined Ecological Gold certification. The label, issued by the international Alliance for Responsible Mining, certifies that the gold has been mined and processed in an environmentally friendly way without the use of mercury or cyanide. Since 2015, XAMODX, which represents over 300 artisanal miners has become the first organisation in Asia to receive this certification.

In 2011 after a tour of Bolivia's Fairmined mining sites, XAMODX's former director returned to Mongolia determined to motivate his miners to adopt a similar approach. From that moment on, they worked to set up toilets, a waste collection service and regular cleaning of the sites. But their most significant move was abandoning techniques using highly toxic chemicals to extract gold from the ore. The building of a mercury-free pilot extraction plant as part of the SAM project was a major part of this.

Social development is another central concern of the Fairmined label, which ensures that the miners enjoy decent working conditions and have not used child labour. The members of the NGO have to pay taxes and be insured in accordance with Mongolian law. The certificate is valid for one year, after which a team of inspectors come to check that the standards are being maintained.

Tapping into new markets

There is rising demand on world markets for ethically-mined gold, and jewellers are willing to pay a good price. The Fairmined label thus creates interesting prospects for miners, who will be able to charge a higher price per kilogramme. XAMODX has now founded a cooperative capable of trading on international markets, and since March 2016, it has been supplying sustainable gold to over a hundred jewellery brands. XAMODX ensures that the gold it mines is traceable.  The miners meticulously register the outcome of each day's work: name, date and place of extraction, number, weight, number of hours worked, number of miners and signature.

Being able to demand a better price is not the only benefit of Fairmined gold. The main advantage for Mongolian artisan miners is becoming part of the formal sector. Until recently they were nicknamed “Ninjas” because of the green bowls they carry on their backs which resemble the shells of the cartoon Ninja Turtles and were seen as criminals. Today they no longer pose a threat to the environment or Mongolian society, and have become important contributors to the country's development.

Sustainable Artisanal Mining Project

At the beginning of the 21st century, the 100,000 illegal miners that dug the earth without any regard for the environment had become a threat for their natural surroundings and for Mongolia's pastoral traditions. To remedy this, the Mongolian government launched the Sustainable Artisanal Mining (SAM) Project with SDC backing in 2005. The project aims to formalise these activities and make them legal, improve the capacities of the miners and protect the environment. By bringing the concept of sustainable artisanal mining into public and political dialogue, the SDC has helped to defuse conflicts. To date over 7,000 miners have benefited from the SAM project. SAM is currently working to pool knowledge on sustainable artisanal mining at the international level so that miners throughout the world can exchange best practice. A workshop will bring together mining-sector actors in Paris on 13-14 May 2016 on the margins of the 10th OECD Forum on Responsible Mineral Supply Chains.