EARTHWORKS

Palm Beach Post - Gold jewelers, activists urge clean karat buys

Palm Beach Post | Susan Salisbury

April 22, 2011
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BY: Susan Salisbury PUBLISHED: 04/22/2011 It's hard to believe that the gleaming gold rings, earrings and other jewelry we wear were once part of a rock within the earth. It takes a lot of rock, too. A single gold ring leaves 20 tons of mine waste behind, says Earthworks, an international mining reform group based in Washington. The National Mining Association's spokeswoman Carol Raulston disputes that, saying it's more like 2 tons of rock and dirt per ounce. The United States is the world's fourth-largest producer of gold, trailing South Africa, China and Australia. Nevada produces most U.S. gold. Earthworks says that gold and other metal mines are big polluters, and they're all doing something, if not everything, wrong.

“There is no major open-pit gold mine that is responsibly operated, top-to-bottom, in the world. There are mines that have aspects that are responsible,” said Alan Septoff, Earthworks research director.

The mining industry counters that in the U.S., mining is highly regulated, uses advanced modern technology and adheres to strict environmental standards.

The bottom line is: Should consumers feel guilty about wearing gold or buying more, a guilt most of us really don’t want? After all, wearing jewelry is a pleasure.

Jewelers join No Dirty Gold effort

Seven years ago Earthworks launched its No Dirty Gold campaign. Since then, 73 jewelry retailers worldwide have joined the initiative, pledging to shun gold from irresponsible mining and seek cleaner sources of gold and precious metals.

Target, which ranks 10th among U.S. jewelry retailers with 2009 sales of about $450 million, is the most recent signer of the Golden Rules, a set of social, human rights and environmental criteria for more responsible mining of precious metals.

Eight of the top 10 jewelry retailers in the United States have signed the pledge. The list includes such luxury brands as Tiffany and Cartier and such chains as Sears/Kmart and JC Penney.

“Target is proud to be part of the No Dirty Gold campaign,” said Tim Mantel, president of Target Sourcing Services. “Our approach to sourcing products throughout the world is ground in our heritage of strong business ethics.”

In the past few years, there has been some progress toward certification and tracing of mined products. With gold a global business, that’s not as easy as it sounds. After mining and processing, gold might be pooled from many different mines and melted into bars. A bar produced in one country could end up in another to be made into jewelry and then shipped somewhere else to be sold.

Mining today not like Gold Rush

Gold mining is a lot more complex that picking up a nugget. And it’s nothing like what occurred in the California Gold Rush when the “49ers” sifted gold from riverbeds using a simple pan.

“Gold, particularly in the U.S., is widely dispersed in rock. When you mine it here, you are putting a lot of dirt in a truck. They do various processes to extract it from the rock,” Raulston said.

That mined waste includes all sort of toxics, or metals, such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic and lead.

While the mining industry asserts the metals are not released in the air and waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists the industry as one of the largest producers of such substances.

In June 2006 the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance was launched in Vancouver, British Columbia, to establish a voluntary system to independently verify compliance with environmental, human rights and social standards for mining operations. Participants include mining companies, jewelry retailers, nongovernmental organizations and trade associations.

Retailers who have signed up to abide by the No Dirty Gold’s Golden Rules have agreed to participate in a system that identifies the source of their gold whenever such a system becomes available.

The jewelry industry has taken action as well. The Jewelers of American co-founded the London-based Responsible Jewellery Council, which launched a global responsible practices system for the diamond and gold industry in 2009, said Robert Headley, chief operating officer of the Jewelers of America in New York.

“Jewelers of America and its members believe gold should be mined and refined in a manner that respects the needs of people and the earth,” Headley said.

“While we support the aims of the No Dirty Gold campaign to improve gold mining practices, we believe its Golden Rules are in essence a guarantee that cannot as yet be substantiated by retailers,” Headley said.

Federal government getting involved

In July, Congress passed legislation designed to stall the market for minerals that may directly or indirectly finance armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and adjoining countries.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is working on final rules that would require publicly held companies to disclose the source of the certain metals, including gold.

Headley’s advice is to purchase jewelry from retailers who are committed to the Golden Rules and are members of a professional trade organization. Go to www.jewelers.org to find local jewelers who are members. Click on the consumer section and search by ZIP code. Many South Florida jewelers are listed.

In addition to buying new items from a responsible jewelry, another option is to buy used jewelry and have it melted down or redesigned.

Tagged with: no dirty gold, jewelry retailers, gold

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