Guya Merkle, a speaker at this year’s Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy (TIGE) conference in Caux, Switzerland, shares her remarkable story of working to inspire the gold industry to be ethical.
Guya decided to take a break to learn more about the luxury jewellery sector and how she can run her father’s business. The more she learnt about the global gold mining sector, the more disheartened she was with the current practices – poor working conditions, low wages, corruption, exploitation and so forth. She was shocked and did not think she would ever be able to be a part of such an industry but for the sake of her father, she continued.
She travelled around the world and talked to local people working on the mines from Peru to Africa. She found from interviewing the gold miners that they worked for next to nothing in terrible conditions. As she travelled, learnt and connected with these local workers, she realised that luxury cannot be true luxury unless the people involved in the process are treated well, bringing the best value to everybody. She transformed the small family business by deciding that every single piece of gold sourced was to be ethical. Yet implementing this decision was easier said than done. The industry, all along the supply chain, just was not ready for this and was stuck in its old, traditional ways. It is also very expensive to produce ethically extracted gold, as profit is the biggest drive. For Guya to go down this route, she would have to make considerable profit margin cuts.
Guya wanted to make a change in customers' minds and in the jewellery industry, which is why she founded the earthBeat Foundation in 2012. The Foundation gives gold miners a voice, brings change by focusing closely on gold obtained from small scale, artisanal mining and raising consumer awareness. 'It’s about fairness, humanity, empowering local people, giving them a chance to express themselves. It’s about human rights and equality for all'.
Guya and her staff work with mining communities on a partnership level. They are finding solutions together to lift their standards of living. 'It’s about the other side of the coin - why are other gold companies not following ethical practices? Why is there so much exploitation in the sector? Why are the conditions still so bad? When consumers are paying a very high price, why do local people who extract the gold live in poverty? We need a solution on both sides, small compromises working towards the good for humanity'.
'We are working in Uganda (“The Happy Mine” project) to set up a pilot social business, inclusive of women and children – teaching them how to add value to the gold they source and showing them how they can sustain themselves. We are educating and supporting them in realising how they (the mining communities) can be partners in the gold industry. It’s about creating true luxury – for all.'