WASHINGTON, DC—Valentine's sales of gold jewelry in the US will leave in their wake more than 34 million metric tons of waste worldwide, according to estimates from EARTHWORKS and Oxfam America, leaders of a major consumer campaign aimed at changing the way gold is produced and sold. (The estimates are based on gold sales in the first two weeks of February.) The "No Dirty Gold" campaign, which is celebrating its first anniversary this week, has targeted gold sales because gold mining is arguably the dirtiest industry in the world-and most of the gold mined worldwide is used for jewelry.
"Gold loses its luster when it is produced at the expense of healthy communities, clean water and human rights," said Payal Sampat, International Campaign Director with EARTHWORKS. "Retailers and consumers are saying this price is too high."
Valentine's Day is the number one holiday for gold jewelry sales in the US Today, campaigners will be distributing Valentine's cards with the message, "Don't tarnish your love with dirty gold," in front of major jewelry and watch stores, including Rolex and Fortunoff, on 5th Avenue in midtown New York City. They will be joined by a giant puppet depicting a chic shopper carrying shopping bags full of "dirty" gold jewelry. Consumers will be invited to join thousands who have already signed a pledge calling for alternatives to dirty or irresponsibly produced gold. Photos of the puppet, as well as the Valentine's Day card and the pledge are on the www.nodirtygold.org website.
The No Dirty Gold campaign has gained momentum in the last year, with groups in Germany, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, and Peru engaging in similar campaigns. In response to the campaign, leading jewelry and electronics retailers such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Helzberg Diamonds, and Harry Winston have voiced support for the campaign's objectives.
"As consumers and retailers learn about the true cost of gold, they are calling for it to be produced in ways that do not harm people and the environment," said Keith Slack, Senior Policy Advisor with Oxfam America. "We want buyers and sellers of gold jewelry to hold mining companies accountable to the communities where they operate," added Carrie Dann from the Western Shoshone Defense Project in Nevada.
Gold mining is being targeted as an industry ripe for reform through consumer pressure because of the extensively documented human and environmental costs of gold mining. Most gold is not used for essential services; in a typical year more than 80 percent is used to make jewelry. Most consumers don't realize that in developing countries irresponsible gold mining is associated with protests, human rights abuses, and even imprisonment, along with environmental devastation. In the US, mines generate an amount of waste equivalent in weight to nearly nine times the trash produced by all US cities and towns combined. The production of a single 18 Karat gold ring weighing less than an ounce generates at least 20 tons of mine waste. Metals mining employs less than one-tenth of one percent of the global workforce but consumes 7 to 10 percent of the world's energy.
"Mining companies have polluted our water resources and violated our right to a healthy environment in their rush to riches," said Kalia Moldogazieva, a mining activist from Kyrgyzstan who helped expose the environmental and human health impacts of toxic chemical spills at the Kumtor mine.
The No Dirty Gold campaign draws from the experience of consumer efforts to end sweatshop labor, promote fair trade coffee, and support sustainable forestry and, like those campaigns, it emphasizes student outreach. In recent months, students at about a dozen colleges in the US and Canada have been organizing to clean up the dirty gold used in class rings. This week, students on several campuses, including University of Vermont, University of Colorado, and Yale and American Universities, will also be holding Valentine's Day events on their campuses.
To interview representatives of communities affected by gold mining, student organizers, scientists or others relevant to this issue, please contact Harlin Savage at Resource Media at 720-564-0500 x1. To download photos of gold mining's impacts, please visit www.nodirtygold.org . To request mini-DV footage, please contact Payal Sampat at 202-247-1180 or [email protected] .