EARTHWORKS

Mining and jewelry industry self-certification system falls short, groups say

Earthworks

December 21, 2009

CAFOD * Canadian Boreal Initiative * EARTHWORKS
Great Basin Resource Watch
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions
Mining Watch Canada * Western Shoshone Defense Project

London, Washington, DC, Elko, Ottawa and Melbourne, December 21, 2009: As the jewelry and mining industry trade association, the Responsible Jewelry Council, launched its certification scheme this week, NGOs, technical experts and community representatives cautioned about the limits and shortcomings of the industry-run system.

"Given the considerable impacts of gold mining and consumer concerns about 'dirty' gold, there is clearly a need for independent, third-party monitoring of the gold supply chain," said Payal Sampat of Washington, DC-based EARTHWORKS and the No Dirty Gold campaign. "Unfortunately, the RJC is a process led and governed entirely by the very industries that are to be monitored, and does not meet this need."

RJC's membership draws from the gold and diamond industries, and its process for developing standards and verification systems was governed and developed by the trade association and its members. Despite many requests from civil society groups for more active representation and engagement, the RJC does not include representatives of labor, NGOs, affected communities or other civil society groups.

"Hiring outside consultants or firms to audit practices does not make a process independent or third party," said Alan Young of Canadian Boreal Initiative in Ottawa. "This is a major shortcoming of the current RJC system, and hurts its credibility and legitimacy."

Civil society groups also raised concerns about the content of the mining standards being proposed by RJC. The standards would let companies operate mines in conflict zones and in most protected areas; would allow dumping of tailings waste into lakes and deeper ocean waters; and provide limited or no control on emissions of toxic substances to the environment. The standards also lack provisions for community consent for mining operations or resettlement. In addition, because the system certifies companies, rather than specific operations, it does not monitor the on-the-ground impacts of individual mining operations, or allow gold to be traced back to specific mines or practices.

"What kind of tangible impacts will RJC's standards have for communities like ours who bear the brunt of gold mining's impacts?" said Larson Bill of Western Shoshone Defense Project in Elko, Nevada. "What we really need is assurance that mining operations will respect our land, water and our right to free, prior and informed consent. RJC falls far short of this," he added.

Gold mining is one of the world's dirtiest industries and has been linked to significant environmental, social and human rights impacts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranks metals mining the number one toxic polluter in the country, leading in lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions to air, water and soil.

"This is, unfortunately, a classic 'fox in the hen house' approach," said Dr. Michael Conroy, author of the award-winning analysis of voluntary certification systems, Branded! How the 'Certification Revolution' Is Transforming Global Corporations. "It provides a thin veneer of responsibility without having fundamental credibility."

Civil society groups point to the need for a true third-party, multi-stakeholder process to develop a standards and assurance system for gold and precious minerals. Several civil society organizations and industry participants are actively engaged in such a process. The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) is a multi-sector initiative involving representatives from jewelry and mining industries, NGOs, trade unions and mining affected communities. (For more information, see www.responsiblemining.net)

"Many jewelers hoped that the RJC system would be the answer to their customers' concerns about 'dirty' and 'blood' gold," said Sonya Maldar of London-based Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD). "But consumers are unlikely to be comforted by a system that does not address the critical environmental and human rights issues they are concerned about, and whose credibility is being called into question by civil society groups that raised the alarm in the first place," she added.

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