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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

08/04/2011
Gold Plated Jewelry

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This article first appeared on Essence of Life, a nonprofit organization which strives to arouse awareness of environmental issues and personal responsibility.

The mining industry

We are drawn to jewels and crystals like magpies. We may feel the healing powers of particular crystals or gemstones or be compelled by the latest fashions, but how sustainable is our jewelry box?

The mining industry is one of the most toxic in the world. It has a massive impact on the local environment as a polluter of air and water supplies and often creates deforestation. Mining naturally plays a direct hit to the lungs and wellbeing of the miners themselves and in many countries across the world has created long-lasting civil conflict and even wars. Whether its sustainable metals, blood diamonds or native American turquoise, how ethical is our jewelry?

We might think we are supporting local artisans around the world, when we buy their crystal and macramé dreamcatcher necklaces, but what is the impact on the local environment?

A challenge for jewelry designers who want to move things in a positive direction is the lack of sustainable raw materials and very few industry standards. There is one fair trade gold mine in the world, but no ethical silver mines.

Ethical jewelry

Rachel Entwistle is one UK based designer who is trying to create ethical jewelry. She feels that in order for the jewelry industry to become truly ethical, we as customers have to demand it. And so we as customers need to wake up to the environmental and social impact of mining.

According to NoDirtyGold.org, 20 metric tons of waste is created for each gold ring produced. Cyanide is often used in gold mining which in small quantities kills fish and wildlife and has a direct impact on the health of miners. Large doses of cyanide are of course fatal to humans. Mercury and other heavy metals are also byproducts of gold mining. Back in the Gold Rusy days of California in the 19th Century, gold prospectors used mercury to purify gold and dumped about 4,000 metric tons of mercury into local rivers and streams. Fish in the seas around San Francisco and in the Sacramento River still show elevated levels of mercury.

Most gold comes from the land of indigenous peoples. Large open-pit mines often displace farmers and indigenous peoples from their ancestral homeland. The impact on mining communities from Ghana to Indonesia, Peru to Alaska creates long-term public health issues like chronic asthma, lead poisoning and skin diseases. On top of that, mines do not have a great safety record and often there are industrial accidents typically involving spilled chemicals.

The mining of gold

Between 13 and 20 million men, women, and children from over 50 developing countries work in small scale mines, often in impoverished areas. Factor in their families and surrounding communities and you have an estimated 100 million people depend upon small scale mining for survival, according to the World Bank. For example, up to ninety percent of all gemstones come from small scale artisan miners.

According to Nodirtygold.org, nearly ten percent of the world’s gold production comes from the ancestral lands of the Western Shoshone from Idaho through to California. Under 60 million acres of land lies billions of dollars worth of gold.

Although things have changed since the days of the gold rush in the 1840s, corporate miners still lay claim to this land destroying the sacred lands of the Western Shoshone and polluting the waterways. The tribal peoples have been battling in the courts through the last few decades trying to win compensation and legislation over their own lands, but keep losing out to the corporate miners.

“It’s important to understand the indigenous perspective of the world around us and our holistic way of thinking. All elements of the world, animate and inanimate, are functionally integrated. The water, air, rocks, plants, animals and people are connected. The change in one element changes the other elements. The significance of a sacred site cannot be reduced to just the rock cliff with petroglyphs. Its significance is interrelated with the creek within the canyon, the Bonneville cutthroat trout in the creek, the pinyon pine trees, the juniper, the big horn sheep, the birds and so on.” Virginia Sanchez, Western Shoshone

The alternatives

The Fairtrade Foundation and Alliance for Responsible Mining have created the Fairmined Standard.

“Companies and consumers will embrace this opportunity to make a real difference to miners’ lives,” says Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation.

“The launch of Fairtrade and Fairmined standards for gold provides a lifeline for communities who find themselves at the mercy of unbalanced markets, when agriculture and other livelihoods are not viable. Many face exploitation from middle men who pay below market prices and cheat them on weight and purity of the gold content. Mining community members lack basic sanitation, clean and safe drinking water, poor housing, little or no access to education and healthcare and are financially unstable.”

Finding Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold is going to take a while. Initially launching in the UK, they aim to capture 5% of the gold jewelry market over a 15 year period. So in the meantime, there is the potential of sourcing companies who work with recycled gold, finding vintage pieces or buying old gold and having it remade into new pieces.

Similarly Rachel Entwistle says “As there are no fair trade silver mines in the world, I decided to work with recycled silver.” Rachel also works with indigenous communities in order to give something back. “I learnt traditional techniques with co-operatives in Mexico and have run jewelry making workshops with orphans in India. It’s important for me that this indigenous and tribal energy is kept alive.”

Rachel has also recently produced collections for Survival International – renowned for their work with preserving tribal culture and tribal lands. Her stunning hand-crafted leaf designs were inspired by her time in India studying and teaching jewelry design. The pinnacle of this collection is an exquisitely crafted brass pendant using the ancient Indian ‘lost wax’ technique.

Around the globe in Singapore, ethical jewelry designer Choo Yilin is working in a similar way. She sources her silver metal from the waste materials of refiners and has created a collection ‘the alternative to coral’ as the result of harvesting coral from marine ecosystems is devastating. “One of the objectives of my business is to utilize jewelry design as a vehicle to communicate messages of cultural, ecological, and social importance,” says Choo Yilin.

Brilliant Earth showcase very traditional pieces but using ‘conflict-free’ diamonds and recycled gold and platinum. “Wherever possible, Brilliant Earth uses precious metals from renewed sources derived from recycled jewelry or industrial products,” says Cofounder Beth Gerstein. “By using renewed metals, our goal is to reduce the need for additional dirty mining of precious metals. We support the goals of the No Dirty Gold campaign.”

As consumers we are a lot more powerful than we think. Each time we buy something we are making a choice. We can make an informed choice and start empowering people the world over by supporting fair trade businesses.
Ethical jewelry

Rachel Entwistle is one UK based designer who is trying to create ethical jewelry. She feels that in order for the jewelry industry to become truly ethical, we as customers have to demand it. And so we as customers need to wake up to the environmental and social impact of mining.

According to NoDirtyGold.org, 20 metric tons of waste is created for each gold ring produced. Cyanide is often used in gold mining which in small quantities kills fish and wildlife and has a direct impact on the health of miners. Large doses of cyanide are of course fatal to humans. Mercury and other heavy metals are also byproducts of gold mining. Back in the Gold Rusy days of California in the 19th Century, gold prospectors used mercury to purify gold and dumped about 4,000 metric tons of mercury into local rivers and streams. Fish in the seas around San Francisco and in the Sacramento River still show elevated levels of mercury.

Most gold comes from the land of indigenous peoples. Large open-pit mines often displace farmers and indigenous peoples from their ancestral homeland. The impact on mining communities from Ghana to Indonesia, Peru to Alaska creates long-term public health issues like chronic asthma, lead poisoning and skin diseases. On top of that, mines do not have a great safety record and often there are industrial accidents typically involving spilled chemicals.

The mining of gold

Between 13 and 20 million men, women, and children from over 50 developing countries work in small scale mines, often in impoverished areas. Factor in their families and surrounding communities and you have an estimated 100 million people depend upon small scale mining for survival, according to the World Bank. For example, up to ninety percent of all gemstones come from small scale artisan miners.

According to Nodirtygold.org, nearly ten percent of the world’s gold production comes from the ancestral lands of the Western Shoshone from Idaho through to California. Under 60 million acres of land lies billions of dollars worth of gold.

Although things have changed since the days of the gold rush in the 1840s, corporate miners still lay claim to this land destroying the sacred lands of the Western Shoshone and polluting the waterways. The tribal peoples have been battling in the courts through the last few decades trying to win compensation and legislation over their own lands, but keep losing out to the corporate miners.

“It’s important to understand the indigenous perspective of the world around us and our holistic way of thinking. All elements of the world, animate and inanimate, are functionally integrated. The water, air, rocks, plants, animals and people are connected. The change in one element changes the other elements. The significance of a sacred site cannot be reduced to just the rock cliff with petroglyphs. Its significance is interrelated with the creek within the canyon, the Bonneville cutthroat trout in the creek, the pinyon pine trees, the juniper, the big horn sheep, the birds and so on.”

Virginia Sanchez, Western Shoshone

The alternatives

The Fairtrade Foundation and Alliance for Responsible Mining have created the Fairmined Standard.

“Companies and consumers will embrace this opportunity to make a real difference to miners’ lives,” says Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation.

“The launch of Fairtrade and Fairmined standards for gold provides a lifeline for communities who find themselves at the mercy of unbalanced markets, when agriculture and other livelihoods are not viable. Many face exploitation from middle men who pay below market prices and cheat them on weight and purity of the gold content. Mining community members lack basic sanitation, clean and safe drinking water, poor housing, little or no access to education and healthcare and are financially unstable.”

Finding Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold is going to take a while. Initially launching in the UK, they aim to capture 5% of the gold jewelry market over a 15 year period. So in the meantime, there is the potential of sourcing companies who work with recycled gold, finding vintage pieces or buying old gold and having it remade into new pieces.

Similarly Rachel Entwistle says “As there are no fair trade silver mines in the world, I decided to work with recycled silver.” Rachel also works with indigenous communities in order to give something back. “I learnt traditional techniques with co-operatives in Mexico and have run jewelry making workshops with orphans in India. It’s important for me that this indigenous and tribal energy is kept alive.”

Rachel has also recently produced collections for Survival International – renowned for their work with preserving tribal culture and tribal lands. Her stunning hand-crafted leaf designs were inspired by her time in India studying and teaching jewelry design. The pinnacle of this collection is an exquisitely crafted brass pendant using the ancient Indian ‘lost wax’ technique.

Around the globe in Singapore, ethical jewelry designer Choo Yilin is working in a similar way. She sources her silver metal from the waste materials of refiners and has created a collection ‘the alternative to coral’ as the result of harvesting coral from marine ecosystems is devastating. “One of the objectives of my business is to utilize jewelry design as a vehicle to communicate messages of cultural, ecological, and social importance,” says Choo Yilin.

Brilliant Earth showcase very traditional pieces but using ‘conflict-free’ diamonds and recycled gold and platinum. “Wherever possible, Brilliant Earth uses precious metals from renewed sources derived from recycled jewelry or industrial products,” says Cofounder Beth Gerstein. “By using renewed metals, our goal is to reduce the need for additional dirty mining of precious metals. We support the goals of the No Dirty Gold campaign.”

As consumers we are a lot more powerful than we think. Each time we buy something we are making a choice. We can make an informed choice and start empowering people the world over by supporting fair trade businesses.

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