Leading Jewelry Retailers Urge Mining Industry To Clean Up ‘Dirty’ Gold

Leading Jewelry Retailers Urge Mining Industry To Clean Up ‘Dirty’ Gold

Eight of the world's top jewelry retailers have pledged to move away from "dirty" gold sales, calling on mining corporations to ensure that gold is produced in more socially and environmentally responsible ways.

The retailers -- Zale Corp., the Signet Group (the parent firm of Sterling and Kay Jewelers), Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff, Cartier, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels -- have endorsed key human rights, environmental, and social justice principles required for responsible practices in gold and precious-metal production. These include:
  • Respect for basic human rights outlined in international conventions and law;
  • Free, prior, and informed consent from affected communities;
  • Respect for workers' rights and labor standards;
  • Protecting parks and natural reserves from mining; and,
  • Protecting oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams from mining wastes.
The jewelry retailers are being praised by the No Dirty Gold campaign in a full-page ad in The New York Times, which is timed to coincide with Valentine's Day, one of the biggest jewelry-buying holidays in the United States. The ad features a heart-shaped locket with images depicting the environmental and human toll of gold mining, and the headline "There's nothing romantic about a toxic gold mine." The ad then names the eight retail jewelry "leaders," that have made in-principle commitments to sourcing more responsibly produced gold and those “laggard” companies that have not yet done so. The “laggard” retailers identified by the campaign are Rolex, JCPenney, Wal-Mart, Fred Meyer Jewelers, Whitehall Jewellers, Jostens, QVC, and Sears/Kmart.

“Because jewelry retailers buy the majority of gold produced worldwide, they have the power to help clean up the mining industry,” said Payal Sampat, co-director of the No Dirty Gold campaign and international campaign director for Earthworks. “We applaud the leadership of these companies. It’s an important first step.”

More than 80% of the gold produced worldwide is used to make jewelry. Retail sales of jewelry in the U.S. alone surpassed $45 billion in 2004, of which gold jewelry accounted for $17 billion. The eight companies identified as “leaders” together represent $6.3 billion in retail jewelry sales, or 14% of sales in the United States, which is second only to India in annual gold consumption. Four of the top ten U.S. jewelry firms -- Zales, Kay Jewelers (Sterling/Signet), Tiffany & Co., and Helzberg Diamonds -- are among the firms identified as “leaders.”

“Despite growing demand from concerned consumers, mining corporations have yet to significantly reduce the harm their operations are inflicting on communities in many parts of the world,” said Keith Slack, co-director of the No Dirty Gold campaign and senior policy advisor for Oxfam America. “When major jewelry retailers demand ethically produced gold for their products, it’s time for the mining industry to take note and make changes in their practices.”

Growing controversy over new mine proposals and news stories detailing environmental and human rights abuses and corruption within the gold mining industry have prompted retailers to worry about their brand reputations and have spurred consumers to question the source of their gold purchases. Since the No Dirty Gold campaign was launched two years ago, more than 30,000 consumers have signed a petition urging mining corporations to clean up their act and produce gold more responsibly.

The production of a single gold ring generates, on average, 20 tons of waste. Gold mining has caused massive environmental destruction, contaminated fisheries and fresh water used for drinking and irrigation, and displaced tens of thousands of rural farming, fishing, and ranching communities.