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February 14, 2007
Top US Jewelry Retailers Get the Gold for Signing Responsibility Pledge
    by Anne Moore Odell

In time for Valentineís Day, seven out of the top ten US jewelry retailers sign No Dirty Goldís "Golden Rules" to back responsible gold mining practices.

Although many people have heard about the social and environmental hazards in the diamond mining industry, a.k.a. "blood diamonds," there has been less public awareness of the environmental and social hazards accrued in mining for gold. The No Dirty Gold campaign, founded by Oxfam America and EARTHWORKS, is working to educate retailers and the public to the true cost of gold.

Eleven retailers recently showed their support for No Dirty Gold by signing the campaignís Golden Rules, which brings the total number of US jewelry retailers who have agreed to embrace responsible mining up to 19. Seven out of ten of the top US Jewelry retailers are now represented. The new pledges are Ben Bridge Jeweler, Birks & Mayors, Boscovís, Brilliant Earth, Commemorative Brands, Fred Meyer and Littman Jewelers, Leber Jeweler, Michaels Jewelers, QVC, TurningPoint and Wal-Mart.

The eight pioneer pledge signers were Cartier, Fortunoff, Helzberg Diamonds, Piaget, the Signet Group, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels. and Zale Corp. Together these 19 companies generate nearly $12 billion in retail jewelry sales, or 22% of the total US jewelry sales.

The Golden Rules ask mining companies to meet basic social, human and environmental criteria. Some of these standards include the informed consent of mining communities, safe working conditions, and workers rights. Mining companies must also take care of the environment by not dumping mine wastes in water sources, protecting fragile ecosystems, and picking up all the costs of closing down mining operations. Importantly, the Golden Rules require mining companies to allow independent verification of meeting the criteria.

"We approach retailers by simply asking to have a conversation with them about gold-sourcing issues. Initially, retailers were reluctant to have these conversations as they believed that gold-mining was not an issue that affected them," said Keith Slack, Senior Policy Advisor for Oxfam America and Co-Director of the No Dirty Gold campaign. "As the campaign has advanced, however, more and more retailers are coming to understand that irresponsible gold-mining practices can have a direct impact on their brands. It's important to remember that 80% of gold that is mined today is used to make jewelry."

Signing the Golden Rules pledge was right thing to do, Jon Bridge, Co-CEO of Ben Bridge Jeweler, told "We take the impact of our companyís supply chain seriously and we believe all mining and manufacturing should be conducted in a manner that respects the needs of current and future generations. Our company has long been involved in ethical and principled leadership through the Jewelers of America, and we were early members of the Council for Responsible Jewelry Practices."

No Dirty Gold continues its work of including more major jewelry retailers on its list of companies that have signed the Golden Rules. Slack commented, "Target Corporation is a major jewelry retailer that unfortunately is lagging behind other retailers in this respect. We would like to get them on board." Other "laggards" named by No Dirty Gold include J.C. Penney, Rolex, Sears/Kmart and Whitehall Jewelers. However, Slack reported that Whitehall said they will soon sign the Golden Rules pledge and No Dirty Gold looks forward to moving Whitehall off the "laggards" list.

Target has responded to these criticisms by establishing its "Standards of Vendor Engagement" which works to guarantee that its vendors follow appropriate practices for all the merchandise Target sells, including gold jewelry.

Public awareness of gold mining practices is still in its infancy. As Jon Bridge of Ben Bridge Jewelry observed, "There is not overwhelming response or even awareness from the consumer level at this time." However, besides the 19 retailers that have signed the Golden Rules, individuals can sign the No Dirty Gold Golden Rules available on their website.

The next step is for mining companies to actively respond to the retailersí demands and supply "clean" gold. Jewelry retailers and consumers are sending a clear signal to the mining industry that "dirty" gold is not acceptable. Nobody wants their wedding band or engagement ring to come at the cost of clean water or human rights. Just as with organic food, fair-trade coffee, and sweatshop-free garments consumers want to be able to buy jewelry that is responsibly produced.

A number of mining companies, jewelry retailers and NGOs have entered into discussions to develop a certification system for gold and metals. The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) first met in June 2006 with the objective of developing an independent certification process for minerals.

Tiffany, one of the first retailers to sign the pledge, has taken control of most of its gold products. "The largest portion of the gold and silver contained in Tiffany jewelry is obtained from a single US mine, which operates in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner," said Linda Buckley, Vice President, Media Relations for Tiffany. "The metal is then fabricated in Tiffany's own facility before being crafted into Tiffany jewelry, either in our own manufacturing facilities or those of our manufacturing partners," she added.

Commemorative Brands, the parent company of Balfour, ArtCarved, and Keystone class rings brands, was the first class ring company to sign the Golden Rules. Matt Gase, Commemorative Brandís General Manager said that the companyís commitment to social responsibility reflects the "values of the many students around the country who have a deep commitment to human rights and the environment." As the jewelry buying public and jewelry retailers make this commitment to change, the mining companies will undoubtedly feel the pressure to improve their mining practices.


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