By Peggy Jo Donahue
Up until a decade ago, most jewelers and consumers knew little about where the gold used in jewelry were sourced. But since then, a new generation of consumers and activists with raised consciousness has delved deeply into a variety of issues. Gaining a deeper understanding of those issues will help you to decide how you want to source these materials in the future, or how to contribute to efforts to improve conditions in the countries where they’re mined.
• "No Dirty Gold." This consumer campaign, initiated by the environmental group Earthworks, highlights irresponsible practices in the mining of gold. It’s important to note that responsibly operated gold mines follow a strict set of rules regarding their treatment of the environment and the communities that surround their operations (and a number of auditing programs keep them on their toes). But in order to press for change at mines that continue to exploit people and the environment, the No Dirty Gold campaign created a set of "Golden Rules," which represent social, environmental, and human rights criteria for more responsible gold production. (The rules can be found at nodirtygold.org.) The rules have been publicly endorsed by nearly 80 companies-from small independents, jewelry makers, and designers to large retailers that sell jewelry, such as Signet (parent of Kay Jewelers and Jared), Tiffany & Co., and Walmart.
But Earthworks considers companies’ endorsement of the Golden Rules as just the first step in their commitment toward more responsible gold sourcing. The group encourages them to also actively pursue "cleaner" sources of gold and to demonstrate that they are meeting their sourcing commitment. It continues to monitor its signatories to see which companies are following through-and publicly calling out those that are not, via published reports. The No Dirty Gold campaign also undertakes major lobbying efforts to protest irresponsible mining, and to push mining companies to avoid mining in ways that break the Golden Rules. One of its most prominent efforts has been to lobby against the proposed Pebble Mine, which would be sited within Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. The group opposes the mine, which would yield gold and other minerals, because it believes the activity could threaten wild salmon populations, other wildlife, and water supplies in the region.
• Conflict gold. In 2010, gold also became enmeshed in a very specific crisis. A long-raging war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), fueled by a number of minerals (including gold), has killed 5.4 million people and involved a brutal campaign of rape against women and girls. This led the U.S. Congress to attach an amendment to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The amendment regulates the trade in four minerals mined in the DRC region (including tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold) and requires publicly traded companies using these minerals to file a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The issue shone a light on the unknown origin of most gold, due to frequent recycling, mixing of metals, and complex trading systems. It is also triggered an industry-wide effort to better track the precious metal after it leaves the mine, leading to a number of standards that companies can now follow so they can assure customers of the origins of their gold. Publicly traded companies filed their first reports in June 2014. Though the reports are only required for publicly traded companies, the requirements can impact their vendors as well. Private companies, for example, may be asked by a public company—or its vendors—to assist them in conforming to some of the act’s due-diligence requirements as a condition for doing business. To learn more about what the act requires, MJSA members can access the MJSA Guide to the Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule.
The Securites and Exchange Commission requires due-diligence measures to conform to a nationally or internationally recognized standard, such as the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, approved by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Click here to view or download a PDF of the OECD standard .
There are four organizations with connections to the gold and jewelry industries that have standards, including independent third-party audit requirements, which are in conformance with the OECD Guidance:
Responsible Minerals Initiative, which has a Conflict-Free Smelter Program.
Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), which has a Chain-of-Custody Standard.
World Gold Council, which has a Conflict-Free Gold Standard.
The SEC has indicated a public company can meet due-diligence requirements by relying on companies that have met the standards of such programs.
It’s important to note that the law does not apply to minerals derived from recycled or scrap sources. To guarantee to customers that their metals are recycled, many refiners and manufacturers in the U.S. offer recycled metals that have been independently certified by SCS Global Services, which specializes in third-party certification, auditing, testing, and standards development. SCS offers a Recycled Content assessment that certifies all of a company’s recycled metals come from post-consumer sources.
• Responsible Gold Mining. The issue of responsibly tracked and sourced gold leads directly to efforts by a group called the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM), which certifies the responsible practices of artisanal, small-scale miners in certain areas of South America and Africa. Just as with diamonds, not all gold mining is accomplished by large multi-national companies, and countless poor miners dig for gold in developing countries around the world. They often have no other outlet for work, but earn little for their labors, work in unsafe conditions, and end up harming the environment by unwittingly using toxic chemicals and engaging in other destructive practices. To tackle these issues, ARM worked with miners to establish a set of responsible practices for small mining operations, and it conducts third-party audits of their practices on a recurring basis. The mines that adhere to ARM’s Fairmined standards sell their products, which can be labeled as Fairmined gold. U.S. jewelers can obtain Fairmined licenses to obtain this gold.
Mercury reduction. This highly toxic metal is often used by artisanal and small-scale gold miners to dissolve gold and form an amalgam that can later be heated to extract the gold. The practice has significant negative health effects for the miners handling the mercury, the communities where this amalgam is burned, and for people globally, since the pollutant easily travels around the world through the atmosphere to contaminate water supplies and fisheries.
To combat the problem, the Artisanal Gold Council, located in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, runs a number of programs aimed at reducing the amount of mercury used in developing world operations. The group is working on the development and field-testing of mercury reduction and elimination processes in Ghana, Tanzania, and other countries, as well as the creation of a mercury monitoring database (mercurywatch.org) for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
• Contemplate purchasing recycled gold. Many designers and jewelry makers producing responsibly made jewelry are going this route, to avoid sourcing newly mined gold and to support recycling. A whole host of refiners and manufacturers are now offering independently certified, 100% recycled metals. Be sure to ask about their certifications.To date, the following MJSA member companies have obtained SCS certification:
Fremada Gold Inc., New York City
General Refining Corp., Hempstead, New York
Hoover & Strong, Richmond, Virginia
LeachGarner, Attleboro, Massachusetts
Ohio Precious Metals LLC, Jackson, Ohio
SO Accurate Group Inc., Long Island City, New York
Stuller Inc., Lafayette, Louisiana
Umicore Precious Metals USA Inc., Attleboro, Massachusetts
United Precious Metal Refining Inc., (UPMR), Alden, New York
• Explore the purchase of Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold. U.S. jewelers can be licensed for a small yearly fee to purchase Fairmined gold, by contacting the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also learn more about licensing via SCS Global Services, which ARM selected as its partner to audit and authorize operators and licensees against the Fairmined standard. Once licensed, you can buy Fairmined gold from several sources. A U.S.-based Ethical Sourcing Consortium of Jewelers, organized by Ethical Metalsmiths, bands together as smaller, artisanal jewelers, to buy Fairmined gold in small quantities. You must join Ethical Metalsmiths to become a member of the consortium. In addition, supplier Hoover & Strong announced that, in 2015, it would begin selling Fairmined 14k, 18k, and 24k yellow gold in grain, sheet, and round wire, as well as Fairmined silver casting grain. For more information, go to ethicalmetalsmiths.org or hooverandstrong.com.
Fairtrade gold, another standard that’s similar to Fairmined but was developed by Fairtrade International (an international consortium), doesn’t yet offer licenses to sell to U.S. jewelers. However, there is a Canadian company, Fair Sources, which is a Fairtrade license holder and offers plain wedding bands and engagement rings made in Fairtrade gold, which U.S. companies can buy.
• Take time to learn more about responsible metalsmithing practices. Ethical Metalsmiths has a host of programs for its members. There you’ll also find a list of vetted jewelers who are committed to social and environmental responsibility, with links so you can learn more and network. In addition, jeweler Christine Dhein, who is active in Ethical Metalsmiths, publishes a newsletter called Green Jewelry News. In each issue, she updates followers on current mining issues, classes, and exhibitions, in addition to offering tips on green jewelry practices.
• The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) is a London-based group that sets standards for companies throughout the international jewelry industry. RJC consulted with a wide variety of stakeholders, including governments, industry, and human rights and environmental groups to ensure its standards would be credible and comprehensive. The council now has more than 500 member companies that have agreed to abide by its code of responsible practices and to be independently audited by an outside company to prove they are following through. Though most RJC members are larger companies, there are smaller jewelry makers, designers, and retailers involved, too, and the standards were developed to be broad enough to apply to businesses of all sizes.
• Fair Jewelry Action (FJA) is a human rights and environmental justice network within the jewelry sector. Marc Choyt and Greg Valerio, FJA co-founders, published The Red & Green Book in collaboration with the National Association of Goldsmiths, the Birmingham Assay Office, and the Company of Master Jewellers (all based in the United Kingdom). The publication, which is free to all, explains human rights and environmental best practices to the average jeweler.
• Ethical Metalsmiths, another group working on responsible practices, is purchasing Fairmined gold from a South American miner that is certified by the Alliance for Responsible Mining. It also has a Studio Practices Working Group to address questions about sustainable studio practices. The group’s website provides updates, a list of vetted responsible jewelers, and other practical information, such as a guide to proper disposal procedures for commonly used studio chemicals.