No Dirty Gold: This Valentine's Day, Say No to Gold
That's Mined at the Expense of the Environment and
Communities affected by mining deserve meaningful
changes that improve real conditions on the ground.
By Payal Sampat and Scott Cardiff
February 11, 2011
Thinking of giving your sweetheart gold jewelry for
Valentine's Day? You might want to first know what goes
into making it. Extracting enough gold for one ring
takes an average of two pounds of cyanide (a teaspoon
will kill you). Processing the gold in one ring uses
over 1,400 gallons of water, enough to meet the daily
needs of 100 people. Left behind is a toxic sludge
containing heavy metals, cyanide compounds, and arsenic.
Each gold ring produces an average of 20 tons of waste -
millions of tons over the life of a mine.
Producing gold can also come at great human cost. Mines
are often imposed on communities that don't want them,
and cause communities to lose their lands and
livelihoods. Human costs also include the use of child
labor in mines in Mali, dangerous conditions in mines in
Ghana, and armed violence and human rights violations
that have been linked to gold mines in the Democratic
Republic of Congo.
Seven years ago, the No Dirty Gold campaign called on
jewelers to stop using gold produced in irresponsible
ways. The campaign focused on jewelry because it is the
primary end use of gold, accounting for some 80 percent
of the annual mine production. More than 100,000 people
have since signed the No Dirty Gold pledge to demand
that companies not sell gold produced at the expense of
communities, workers, and the environment. Over 70
jewelers have signed on to the Golden Rules for
responsible sourcing of gold and precious metals. By
signing they have sent a clear message to their
suppliers about their desire for more responsibly
produced metals. They have committed to seeking out
responsible sources and independent verification of
sourcing claims, and to increasing their use of recycled
Over 50 jewelers have also pledged to protect the
world's most valuable wild sockeye salmon fishery from
an irresponsible mine project. At the request of the
commercial fishing and indigenous communities of Bristol
Bay, Alaska, they have promised not to use gold from the
proposed Pebble mine. If built, Pebble would be the
largest open-pit mine in North America, and would dump
up to 10 billion tons of toxic waste at the headwaters
of Bristol Bay.
Many jewelry companies have taken important steps in the
right direction, but others, like Target, have turned a
blind eye. Some jewelers have been so anxious to
reassure their customers that they can shop without
hurting their conscience that they have done so without
any guarantee that the jewelry is actually being
produced in more responsible ways.
Take Walmart. No Dirty Gold has commended Walmart for
being the first Big Box retailer to sign the Golden
Rules, and for taking steps to track its supply chain.
But in its haste to launch a "green" jewelry line,
Walmart made claims that were not accurate. Last month,
an investigation for New Times by Jean Friedman-Rodovsky
exposed the truth behind Walmart's 'Love, Earth' line of
jewelry, revealing that it comes at a great cost to
workers in Bolivia and to the environment and
communities around mines in the United States.
Another example of PR claims without meaningful change
is the mining and jewelry industry-led Responsible
Jewellery Council (RJC). This is a trade association
ostensibly concerned about social and environmental
issues throughout the gold and diamonds supply chain.
But its members do not include affected communities,
mining unions or public interest groups.
The system as it is currently structured doesn't move us
any closer to more responsible mining.
Communities and places affected by mining deserve
meaningful changes that improve real conditions on the
ground. One step in the right direction is the recent
set of rules drafted by the Securities and Exchange
Commission requiring companies traded on U.S. stock
exchanges to determine if they are using gold from
conflict mines in the Congo. An initiative to develop
standards and an independent verification process for
gold and other metals is now underway - and this effort,
the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance or IRMA,
includes both civil society and corporate participants.
Consumers care about their purchases and want to be
assured that their gold jewelry or cell phone did not
come at the cost of human rights or the environment.
Jewelry companies should support transparency and truly
independent verification of the metals supply chain, and
insist that their suppliers provide them with cleaner
alternatives to "dirty" gold. Now that's an idea we
could grow to love.
Payal Sampat is international campaign director and
Scott Cardiff is international campaign coordinator for
EARTHWORKS, an international mining reform organization.
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