Jewelers Pursue Social Responsibility as Gold Mining Controversy Grows


Gold mine in Big Smokey Valley, Nevada; Recycled gold Monique Péan necklace (left to right), Credit: Uncle Kick-Kick, CC; WWD

The gold mining controversy--fueled by media attention--has spurred jewelry makers and retailers to begin using only ethical metal and gemstones, WWD reports:
Since the 2006 release of the fictional film, "Blood Diamond" media attention and pressure on the jewelry industry has been building. With much attention on conflict diamonds, the gold mining community may be the next media spotlight. WWD reports, below.

Beyond the political controversies, gold mining faces environmental ones as it is a notoriously messy business with the emission of toxic fumes, mercury, and cyanide into the earth and waters surrounding a mine site, affecting not only marine life but also the clean water supply.

Jewelry firms and retailers are equipped for a possible media maelstrom, as they have teamed up with nonprofit organizations to go green and ensure political correctness. Roughly 80 percent of the world's gold is used in jewelry and the largest gold-consuming countries and regions are China, India, the Middle East and the U.S.

Payal Sampat, director of the No Dirty Gold campaign, "Producing a single gold wedding band leaves behind 20 tons of waste at a mine site. We're trying to improve practices at mine sites and change the way mining is done, so it has reduced environmental and human rights impacts. We're definitely improving [mining, in terms of social responsibility]. We're not almost there...we're a long way from there."

Pressure for Social Responsibility, Declining Consumer Demand

The pressure for more social responsibility in the industry comes against a background of declining consumer demand, yet skyrocketing prices, for gold, traditionally seen as a safe investment haven in times of stock market turmoil. Over the past decade, gold prices have soared from $288.50 an oz. on Jan. 3, 2000, to $1,097 on Dec. 31.

Gold is mined the world over, including in the western U.S, in Utah and Nevada, as well as Peru, Ghana, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia and Russia. There are requirements for mines in the U.S. to follow fixed environmental rules, but the No Dirty Gold campaign is seeking a third-party certification system akin to what the Kimberley Process has done in diamond mining.


High End Brands to Mass Merchants Pursue Ethical Jewelry
High end jewelry brands Cartier and Tiffany and Co. along with mass merchants Wal-Mart, Sears, and J.C. Penney Co. have signed on to No Dirty Gold's Golden Rules, more below.

[The Golden Rules] call on mining companies to meet basic standards in their operations, such as respecting human rights in international conventions and law; obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities surrounding a mine; ensuring that operations are not located in areas of armed or militarized conflict, and refraining from dumping mine waste into oceans, rivers, lakes or streams.

Matt Runci, CEO of Jewelers of America, a national trade association focused on the creation of a healthy jewelry retail marketplace, estimates that 30 percent of gold coming from jewelry is recycled or reclaimed. He says, "Recycled gold is a good stopgap and it's a partial measure. There needs to be standards of credibility put in place."

We agree on the latter point and hope to see progress in No Dirty Gold's development of a third party certification. In terms of recycled gold as a "partial measure," we hope green jewelers will shift entirely to reclaimed and recycled metals, as mentioned in Ecouterre's Eco-Fashion Predictions for 2010.

Tags: Accessories | Jewelry | United States

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