Volume 56, Number 8, August 2019
All’s fair… IN “News and Views” this month there is a story about a D-Day Anniversary €50 coin struck at the Monnaie de Paris on June 6 and launched at the Pegasus Memorial Museum in conjunction with Samlerhuset. Striking coins “on the day” of an anniversary and having lavish launches for them is nothing new of course, but what is particularly significant about this coin is that it was struck with “Fairmined” gold. Fairmined gold isn’t necessarily something you might have heard of, but I can guarantee it is something you will get to hear about more and more in the coming months. In essence, Fairmined is ethically sourced gold and, in this age of social responsibility, such an innovation was, perhaps, inevitable. In reality what this means is that a number of large consumers of gold, many from the numismatic world, have banded together to work with the Alliance for Responsible Mining to help smaller gold mines to ensure that they work to an accepted standard. Apparently there are 15 million people working in gold across the globe and 90 per cent of these are employed by so called artisanal mines: small scale operations that are more likely to work with child labour and perhaps have a more lax approach to their environmental impact, in particular in relation to their use of toxic chemicals and metals. The Fairmined accreditation helps gold consumers know that the gold they are using has been responsibly sourced, and who wouldn’t want that? But of course there is a price—in order to cover the costs of the certification and to invest in mining operations, social development and environmental protection, a premium over market value is paid to the mines. On the surface this is no bad thing, we all know that there is inevitably a cost implication to “doing the right thing” and many of us are prepared to pay it. We might buy organic or free-range food, might steer clear of companies known to use “sweat shops” to produce their goods, perhaps buy coffee that helps stop young people from joining gangs, or soaps and cosmetics that haven’t been tested on animals. We are, in general, prepared to spend a little more if we can afford it if that means we get that warm glow of knowing we are doing our little bit to help. Sometimes, I accept, that warm glow is simple smug self-satisfaction but often there is a more altruistic aspect to it and we are happy to know that others might benefit from our actions, or at least not suffer because of them. This being the case Fairmined gold is a nobrainer—why would we want to buy anything else? Why would we not want to only purchase the yellow metal that has been responsibly and ethically sourced? Why would we want to buy anything that might, potentially, be extracted using child labour or which has a high environmental impact? Well we wouldn’t would we? Unless, perhaps it’s cheaper—and there lies the problem. Gold is gold and people, generally, buy gold coins because of their metal content as much as for any numismatic aspect (I am talking here of new issue gold of course, not historical coins) and whilst they know they will pay a premium for their coin because it’s a new strike, how much more of a premium will the market bear? When you are already spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, pounds or euros on gold will you really want to spend even more knowing that you might not see that money again? I can’t say, I’m not in the happy position of being able to buy large amounts of gold so I am not in the same mind-set as those who are. Perhaps if I could regularly afford to buy new issue gold I would be happy to only buy that which has been ethically sourced and not worry about the premium—one day I hope to find out! In the meantime the test will come in a few years when the Fairmined coins start coming on to the secondary market—a market that will often ignore anything other than metal content. Will a one ounce coin minted in Fairmined gold command a higher price than a “standard” one ounce gold proof? We shall have to wait and see. Many of you may remember the “blood diamond” scandal a few years ago, when it was suggested that a large number of diamonds coming on to the market were from conflict zones. In 2000 the World Diamond Congress adopted the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, later given approval by the UN, in an attempt to block the flow of such gems by giving every diamond a certification. Sadly it didn’t work and whilst people may be more aware of blood diamonds today, their sale still continues. Let us hope that the Fairmined gold initiative fares better, it deserves to, it is a worthy cause, but often, when serious money is involved such causes go out of the window. I hope I’m wrong.
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