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Despite headway, more improvements are needed

Washington D.C.— Dozens of the nation's leading jewelry retailers are taking innovative steps to provide consumers with gold jewelry made in a more environmentally and socially responsible way, according to a report released today by the Washington, DC-based environmental group EARTHWORKS.

The report, Tarnished Gold: Assessing the Jewelry Industry's Progress on Ethical Sourcing of Metals, evaluates progress jewelers have made in pursuit of cleaner sources of precious metals — and finds signs of hope as well as shortfalls.

The report comes as Americans are expected to spend millions of dollars on new gold jewelry during Valentine's Day — the No. 2 holiday for jewelry sales in the United States.

More than 60 jewelry companies, including Sears, Herff Jones, and Tiffany & Co., have committed to purchase cleaner sources of gold by endorsing the Golden Rules, a set of principles for more responsible mining. These companies are calling on the mining industry, one of the world's dirtiest, to move away from current practices that harm local communities and generate millions of tons of toxic waste.

These retailers, which represent 22 percent of the U.S. jewelry market and $14.5 billion in sales, are urging the mining industry to end practices that harm local communities, pollute drinking water, and generate millions of tons of toxic waste. The production of a single gold ring generates about 20 tons of mine waste, which can release acids and toxic pollutants.

“We're encouraged that jewelry industry leaders are listening to their customers — and their consciences — and are working to find alternatives to irresponsibly mined metals,” said Payal Sampat of EARTHWORKS and director of the No Dirty Gold consumer campaign.

Target, T.J. Maxx, and Harry Winston are among the retailers who failed to make the grade. These “laggards” have yet to take the first steps towards more responsible metals sourcing and have repeatedly declined to join their colleagues in supporting the Golden Rules.

Gold demand for jewelry represents the equivalent of 90 percent of gold mine production , making jewelry the single largest market for gold. Despite growing pressure from jewelers and consumers, the mining industry is dragging its feet on implementing the kinds of changes needed. Mining companies have yet to make measurable and verifiable progress towards applying the Golden Rules, which call for more responsible practices, including:

  • respect for human rights and workers' rights;
  • free and informed consent from local communities before mining;
  • staying out of protected natural areas;
  • an end to dumping mine waste into rivers, streams and coastal waters;
  • guaranteed payment for the costs of closing and cleaning up mines.

Tarnished Gold, which includes a scorecard to assess how signatories of the Golden Rules are complying with its requirements, is based on self-reported data from 39 companies collected between February and October 2009. Companies were graded “A” to “F” for progress towards sourcing precious metals more responsibly. No company achieved a perfect score.

Jewelers were graded on 15 criteria, including:

  • tracing their supply chain;
  • incorporating the Golden Rules into their policies and contracts;
  • notifying their suppliers of their commitment to source metals in accordance with the Golden Rules;
  • supporting third party certification initiatives;
  • supporting protection of Bristol Bay, Alaska from irresponsible mining.

Among major retailers, Tarnished Gold notes that Canadian firm Birks & Mayors, American luxury retailer Tiffany & Co., and class rings firm Herff Jones reported making the most progress towards improving their metals sourcing practices.

Smaller jewelers reported making the largest strides in their commitments to the Golden Rules. Four of them received an A, including San Francisco-based Brilliant Earth, London's Cred Jewellry, Lena Marie Chelle Designs, and Real Jewels.

“Recalcitrant jewelry retailers like Target need to learn from the leaders and take meaningful action to source metals more responsibly and stop destructive mining,” said Scott Cardiff of EARTHWORKS' No Dirty Gold campaign.

EARTHWORKS and partners from around the world launched the “No Dirty Gold” campaign in 2004 to educate and motivate consumers and jewelry retailers to push the mining industry towards more responsible practices. Since then, over 60 jewelry companies have committed to switching to cleaner gold sources when available, and more than 100,000 consumers have joined the effort.

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