Newspaper's Investigation Exposes Worker Abuse, Environmental Destruction
JOINT PRESS RELEASE: EARTHWORKS * Great Basin Resource Watch * Western Shoshone Defense Project
WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 12 — Walmart's Love, Earth jewelry line, marketed as the product of eco-friendly mines and worker-friendly factories, in fact uses gold from polluting mines in the U.S. and Bolivian sweatshops where employees work in brutal and unsafe conditions for a few dollars a day, according to an investigation by a journalist for TIME and ABC News.
The investigation by Jean Friedman-Rudovsky in the Jan. 6 issue of Miami New Times confirms concerns raised by environmental and indigenous peoples' groups since Walmart, the world's largest jewelry retailer, launched the Love, Earth line two years ago.
Friedman-Rudovsky, a La Paz-based freelancer who is the TIME reporter and ABC News producer for Bolivia, writes: “While Love, Earth may shine like gold, that's only varnish. Underneath, its anatomy is greenwash: The product is no better for the environment — or the people who manufacture it — than a standard piece of jewelry.”
Friedman-Rudovsky quotes Scott Cardiff, coordinator for EARTHWORKS' No Dirty Gold campaign, who says Walmart rejected suggestions to set more rigorous standards for Love, Earth during the product's development stage, and that Love, Earth gold sites have never allowed for independent third-party monitoring. Cardiff says: “These mines do not represent precautionary best practice, which is what responsible mining must be.”
In response to the article, EARTHWORKS, Great Basin Resource Watch and Western Shoshone Defense Project today sent a letter to Walmart, renewing its call for the company to comply with the Golden Rules, voluntary guidelines that establish a set of social, human rights and environmental criteria for responsible mining.
Walmart, like more than 70 other leading jewelry retailers, signed the No Dirty Gold campaign's Golden Rules in 2007, but the groups wrote in their letter: “To the best of our knowledge, Walmart has not applied the Golden Rules criteria or verification requirements to the mines from which Love, Earth is sourcing its gold. . . . From mine to manufacturer, Love, Earth's supply chain is riddled with environmental and human rights problems that are not compatible with an eco-friendly label.” The groups urged Walmart to suspend use of the Love, Earth label until the company is able to demonstrate that its supply chain complies with the Golden Rules, saying: “We urge Walmart to take immediate steps to ensure that Love, Earth lives up to its name.”
This is the third time EARTHWORKS has raised these concerns with Walmart since Love, Earth was launched. EARTHWORKS has called on Walmart to withdraw the environmental label on its jewelry line until its suppliers meet these criteria. Walmart has not yet responded to the issues raised by EARTHWORKS' letters.
“Buyers of the Love, Earth line of jewelry would be shocked to learn the on-the-ground impacts of the gold mines that supply this jewelry,” said John Hadder, Executive Director of Great Basin Resource Watch in Reno. “It is far from eco-friendly, in our view.”
The Nevada and Utah mines where gold is produced for the Love, Earth line are operated by Newmont Mining Co. of Denver and London-based Rio Tinto. Rio Tinto's Bingham Canyon mine near Salt Lake City is the second-most polluting mine in the U.S., according to the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, and is a proposed Superfund site. Newmont's mines in northern Nevada release large quantities of water contaminants and mercury and have been cited by the EPA for hazardous waste violations. Those mines in Nevada are also operating without the consent of the Western Shoshone communities, whose lives and livelihoods are directly affected by the operations. Consent of indigenous communities is a requirement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for which the United States announced its support in December 2010.
Larson Bill of the Western Shoshone Defense Project, an indigenous organization based in Elko County, Nevada near the Newmont-run mines which provide gold for Love, Earth jewelry said, “Newmont has an opportunity to be a global leader in operating its gold mines at the highest standards and working with the indigenous people affected by the mines. Until that time comes, Mother Earth and the Shoshone people will continue to suffer from the impacts of destroyed lands, water, air, and the eventual clean-up after the mining companies leave.”
Love, Earth jewelry is manufactured by Aurafin, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-area company, owned by billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet, that is the U.S.' largest jewelry distributor. Friedman-Rudovsky found that workers at the Aurafin production factory in Bolivia work long hours in oppressive conditions for low wages. Factory managers have failed to provide masks or provide healthy working conditions. Sub-contracting workshops for Aurafin are even worse, and have even locked their workers out and closed down when the workers tried to unionize.
As environmental and human rights concerns about dirty gold have gained prominence in recent years, so have industry efforts to reassure customers that their purchases are untainted. In addition to Walmart's Love, Earth line, the mining and jewelry trade association, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), has also launched an initiative to “restore consumer confidence” in gold and diamonds. However, like Love, Earth, the RJC's initiative is also criticized for its weak standards and failure to provide adequate third party, independent verification of compliance.