Gold mining has a very poor reputation in Peru whether it is on the grand scale (as with Yanacocha in Cajamarca) or on the relatively small scale (as with informal mining in Madre de Dios). Its environmental footprint is generally highly negative, as is its social impact both on the communities living around and the workers employed in extraction.

So it is pleasant to be able to report some good practice. The Central de Cooperativas San Antonio de Poto at Ananea is one of Peru’s very few certified fair trade gold mines. It received its certification last year from FLO, the German-based fair trade registration organisation.

The Central brings together ten cooperatives which work at a high altitude (4,800 metres above sea level) in the mountains north-east of Juliaca in the Puno region. It has 346 associates and employs 1,200 workers.

The cooperatives have been working for nearly 29 years, but managed to become formalised as small-scale miners (minería pequeña) in 2008. This means they are fully recognised by the state, and therefore meet certain requisites as well as paying taxes to the state.

The process of certification as fair traders has been a fairly lengthy one but means the cooperatives need to comply with the strict standards insisted upon by FLO. These cover issues such as treatment of workers, maintenance of environmental standards and commitment to community development.

Of key importance here is the way in which the mercury employed in the refining process is tightly controlled, with mercury being constantly recycled after use. The areas in which it is used are tightly sealed to avoid any spillage.

The advantage of certification is that the gold produced is sold at a premium with the proceeds being sunk into the development of community services (such as spending on health and education) or used to improve worker capacities.

Water (which is often in scant supply and sometimes obliges the cooperatives to rein in production) is also recycled as much as is possible. Most water comes from the streams that stem from the glaciers in the region.

As Pedro Pablo Ccori, the president of the Central pointed out in an intervew with the PSG (September 2019), the great majority of those who live in the community of Annanea are associates of the cooperatives.

One of the projects in which the cooperatives are involved is to link up with Peruvian fair trade jewellers working in gold to ensure added value accruing to domestic producers through vertical integration.