By Marc Choyt, FJA USA
The first feedback period for ARM and FLO’s proposed standards to mass balance or dilute the fairtrade gold content in the product composition of jewellery is over. We are not certain what the decision will be, but clearly we are a major turning point that will determine the fate of Fairtrade gold in the consumer market.
It is worth seeing the episode, or reading the article recently covered by the BBC’s consumer affairs flagship programme Watchdog. But for those who have little time, here’s a relevant quote about what has happened to Fairtrade chocolate and how it has become weak and almost meaningless and a strong argument for why we do not want mass balanced or diluted gold associated with the words Fairtrade.
Each (chocolate bar) now carries the Fairtrade logo. For consumers, it’s a re-assuring label, guaranteeing that the Third World farmers who produced the cocoa beans received a good deal. But all may not be what it seems, because despite the logo, your Dairy Milk, Kit Kat, or Maltesers, may contain no Fairtrade cocoa beans at all.
Bill Keeling, chocolatier to the Queen, has criticised the current system. He points out that manufacturers are allowed to mix up the fair trade beans with others from non trade sources, and yet still label the finished product as ‘fair trade’.
As a result, there’s no guarantee that your favourite fair trade branded chocolate bars will actually contain any fair trade cocoa. So is this misleading?
Mixing cocoa beans in this way is allowed. If a manufacturer buys 20% of its beans from Fairtrade farms, then it can label 20% of its products as such. And there’s no question that the Fair Trade farmers are losing out – they receive all the money they are entitled to. But the consumer is left with a system that is undeniably confusing.
There is no doubt that a mass balanced fairtrade gold, which has been opposed now by over a hundred and forty jewelers, would create the same type of confusion to the consumer. Fairtrade gold, as a brand, must have traceability, transparency, and purity from mine to market. Otherwise, the consumer facing brand is ruined.
Also note: “Fairtrade farms are losing out.” There’s a good chance Fairtrade mines will loose out as well.
The proposal put forward by ARM to mass balance was done without any prior consultation with their stakeholders. This is unfortunate, as ARM has undermined their credibility considerably with the independent jeweler who once supportive their activities with passion. But perhaps they are not so concerned with this because of their new relationship with the Responsible Jewellery Counsel.
At this point, the mass balance of gold also is a considerable reputational risk to the Fair Labeling Organization. The grassroot jewelers passionate about ethical sourcing opposed to the mass balance scheme.
As an ethical jeweler myself, and someone who is deeply involved in working to bring ethical fair trade gold into the American market, I will say that, should the Fairtrade gold be mass balanced, we will consider other options outside of the FLO and ARM. The jewelers who we are in context here strongly oppose the mass balance scheme as well.