July 31 2014

The women behind your Fairtrade gold

When we talk about the Fairtrade gold mining in Sotrami, Peru, we quite often focus on the men who travel 2000ft down into the mine by ladder to blast the rock, and the way that the Fairtrade certification has improved their safety.

At a village high up in the Andes, and hours from another settlement, there is not much other employment going to occupy the women of the community. In Bolivia it is not unusual to have women miners, but here it was decided that women are not allowed to work in the mine. (After working for 20 years in the dusty environment underground, the life expectancy of the men is not much past 40.)

So from 1995 the wives of the miners were engaged in sorting out the waste of mineral "Ganga" that is commonly called "Pallaqueo".
* "Ganga" - Noun: The worthless rock and mineral that accompanies the valuable ones in the structure of the veins
* "Pallar" - Verb: Choosing the rich mineral and discarding the rest.
* "Pallaquera" - Noun: The women engaged in extracting the mineral from the rock

Let me explain...
The rock comes out of the mine in big lumps of about 3kg. Once the rock has made it up the winch to the surface they smash it up in a polverisor. Rather than just send all the rock into there, they focus on the rocks that obviously contain gold - in the obvious vein between the grey and red rock. This ground into dust and the heavy stuff goes down to the bottom.
In the early grading process they separate off small grey rock they reckon isn't worth refining. As nothing is wasted in San Filomena, the discarded rocks that dont make it to refining are taken the village to level out a huge area (they live at the top of the mountains, so a level surface is as valuable as, say... gold) to use as a football pitch, dining area etc.

Once the rocks have been dumped by the lorry, the women are looking for any bits of rock that may have some bits of gold in. Each day they'll produce a bag of rock each that then goes back to the refinary.
When Alan Frampton visits Sotrami he spends time with these women at the work. He says
"It is a subsitance labour but they work very hard. They are like hawks looking for mice in a field of hay. I'm used to looking for pests on individual flowers but this is taking it to another level!"

When they first started in 1995, this work was done by women without using the basics of security; they women were "pallaqueando" in sandals, skirts and with their children or babies.
In 2000 the pallaqueras arranged themselves in an association called "Asociación de  Mujeres Pallaqueras Nueva Esperanza" ( Association of Women Pallaqueras of New Hope) through the Sotrami company and the local representatives. The Association was established and formally organised by adopting the health and safety mining standards that Sotrami was already working under.  Since then the Association have been using and implemented their systems of protection. The association partly helps to cover the needs of the women's households by providing the right support and education to the children. Currently they work in coordination with the company SOTRAMI, and they project the future with optimism.

Cred are working with the San Filomena community to create more work opportunities, including using Alan's experience in horticulture - but this is not easy for a location without a water supply...