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Glitter and Greed: Adverse economic, health, environmental, and human rights consequences of gold jewelry Martin Donohoe Uses of Gold Dominant role throughout history in the growth of empires and the evolution of the world’s financial institutions 80-90% of gold mined today turned into jewelry

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Glitter and Greed:Adverse economic, health, environmental, and human rights consequences of gold jewelry

Martin Donohoe

uses of gold
Uses of Gold
  • Dominant role throughout history in the growth of empires and the evolution of the world’s financial institutions 80-90% of gold mined today turned into jewelry
  • 10-20% used by industry
    • Malleable, ductile, good thermal conductivity, durable, and resistance to corrosion
history of gold
History of Gold
  • 4000 BC: first decorative objects
  • By 1500 BC: standard medium of exchange for international trade
  • Mid-1800s: CA/S African Gold Rushes
  • As with diamonds, aggressive marketing has helped to popularize the modern gold wedding band
gold production
Gold Production
  • Top producers: South Africa, United States, Australia, Indonesia, and China
  • 2500 tons mined each year
  • Valued at $21 billion
  • Typical piece of gold jewelry sells for at least 4 times the value of the gold itself
where is the gold
Where is the Gold?
  • Currently 3 times more gold sits in bank vaults, in jewelry boxes, and with private investors than is identified in underground reserves
    • Enough gold to meet current consumer demand for 17 years
how gold is used in tons 2007
How Gold is Used(In Tons, 2007)
  • 2400 = jewelry
  • 461 – industrial and dental
  • 445 = retail investment
  • 253 = exchange-traded funds
mining the world s deadliest industry
Mining:The World’s Deadliest Industry
  • Tens of thousands killed mining gold and other minerals over the last century
    • 40 killed per day presently
  • 500,000 abandoned mines in U.S. alone
    • Estimated cleanup cost: $32-$72 billion
mining the world s deadliest industry8
Mining:The World’s Deadliest Industry
  • Union-busting / human rights abuses help maintain cheap labor force
  • Local communities suffer environmental damage, pollution, dislocations
  • STDs rampant, spread by miners to wives and children
    • FGC
the resource curse
The Resource Curse
  • ½ of gold produced worldwide comes from indigenous peoples’ lands
  • Dependence upon gold mining slows/reverses economic growth, increases poverty, and encourages governmental corruption
  • Benefits go to corrupt central governments and overseas corporations
the resource curse10
The Resource Curse
  • Little returned to local communities
    • Casino economy
  • Rural and indigenous peoples evicted without prior consultation, meaningful compensation, or the offer of equivalent lands elsewhere
  • ¾ of active gold mining and exploration sites overlap with regions of high conservation value, such as National Parks and World Heritage Sites
u s gold mining
U.S. Gold Mining
  • Mining Law of 1872 (mine purchase price between $2.50 and $5.00 per acre)
  • Generous government subsidies (cheap fuel, road building and other infrastructure, reclamation and cleanup)
  • Local communities stuck with multi-million to multi-billion dollar environmental cleanup costs when mines declare bankruptcy or move on
  • Native Americans’ rights violated
gold mining gold cyanide mercury
Gold MiningGold = Cyanide + Mercury
  • At least 18 tons of mine waste created to obtain the gold for a single 3 oz., 18k ring
  • Gold leached from ore using cyanide
  • Mercury used to capture gold particles as an amalgam
    • Mercury converted to neurotoxic methylmercury in environment
gold mining gold cyanide mercury13
Gold MiningGold = Cyanide + Mercury
  • 4000 tons used to purify gold during 19th-Century Northern California Gold Rush
    • Fish in Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay still show elevated levels
gold mining environmental damage
Gold Mining:Environmental Damage
  • Contaminated groundwater often sits in large toxic lakes held in place by tenuous dams
  • Release of cyanide and mercury into local waterways kills fish, harms fish-eating animals, and poisons drinking water
gold mining environmental damage15
Gold Mining:Environmental Damage
  • Omai gold mine in Guyana (one of the largest open-pit mines in the world):
    • Tailings dam failed in 1995
    • 3 billion cubic liters of cyanide-laden tailings renders downstream 32 miles of Omai River, home to 23,000 people, an “environmental disaster zone”
gold mining environmental damage16
Gold Mining:Environmental Damage
  • Baia Mare gold mine in Romania
    • Tailings dam broke in 2000
    • 100,000 metric tons of toxic wastwater spilled
    • Fish killed, other animals harmed, drinking water of 2.5 million people in Danube River watershed
  • Coastal dumping of gold mine waste elsewhere damages estuaries and coral reefs
gold mercury and malaria
Gold, Mercury and Malaria
  • Mercury pollution contributes to the spread of malaria:
    • Mercury may lower immunity to malaria
    • Still pools of water serve as mosquito breeding grounds
    • Migrant miners import new strains, infecting indigenous peoples
      • E.g., Thousands of Yanomami Indians killed in Brazil in late 1960s / early 1970s
gold other environmental harms
Gold: Other Environmental Harms
  • Gold smelting uses large amounts of energy and releases SO2, nitrogen dioxide, and other components of acid rain
    • Contributes to asthma, skin ailments
  • Release of lead causes lead poisoning
gold other environmental harms19
Gold: Other Environmental Harms
  • 40% of Western U.S. watersheds affected by gold mining pollution
  • More than 25 mines (some still active) on Superfund list
  • Mine pollution ruins farmlands and strains local food resources
  • Water tables decline due to pumping of enormous quantity of water to release gold from ore
gold mining harms women and children
Gold Mining Harms Women and Children
  • By displacing agriculture (where women play a major role), removes women from labor force
  • Concentrates economic power in hands of men
  • Employs a few women in low-level, clerical positions, where they face severe discrimination, sexual harassment, and firing for pregnancy
  • Dowry-related violence, esp. in India
  • Utilizes child labor
gold mining human rights abuses
Gold Mining: Human Rights Abuses
  • Grassberg mine (world’s largest, owned by U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan)
    • On land seized from Amunge and Komoro peoples
    • Dumps tons of cyanide-laced waste into local rivers each day
    • Operators implicated in forced evictions, murders, rape, torture, extra-judicial killings, and arbitrary detentions
    • Abetted by Indonesian military, which it has paid millions of dollars
gold mining terrorism
Gold Mining: Terrorism
  • Echo Bay Mines Limited purportedly paid off Abu Sayef (affiliated with Al Qaeda) in exchange for protection of its Philippines-based gold mine
gold markets vs morals
Gold: Markets vs. Morals
  • Mining industry maintains strong ties with governments to maintain status quo
    • $21 million political contributions in U.S. between 1997 and 2001
  • Subsidies make it cheaper to extract new gold than to recycle existing gold
gold markets vs morals24
Gold: Markets vs. Morals
  • U.S. government has 8,134 tons of gold secured in vaults (worth approximately $122 billion)
  • Federal Reserve and other major central banks have agreed to severely restrict sales from their reserves, offering, in effect, a price support to gold
gold markets vs morals25
Gold: Markets vs. Morals
  • Gold mining supported by World Bank and its profit-making arm, the International Finance Corporation
  • Gold industry blocking International Monetary Fund- and World Bank-sponsored debt-forgiveness package
symbols of love alternatives and solutions
Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
  • Gold:
    • No Dirty Gold Campaign:
      • Halt to production and sale of gold produced at expense of communities, workers, and the environment
      • Mining companies not to operate in areas of armed conflict
      • Companies representing 23% of US jewelry market (accounting for $14.5 billion in sales) pledged
      • Take the pledge at
      • System similar to Kimberly Process
no dirty gold campaign
No Dirty Gold Campaign
  • Companies pledged include:
    • Zale Corporation
    • Signet Group (parent firm of Sterling and Kay jewelers)
    • Tiffany and Company
    • Helzberg Diamonds
    • JC Penney
no dirty gold campaign28
No Dirty Gold Campaign
  • Companies pledged include:
    • Cartier
    • Piaget
    • Van Cleef and Arpels
    • Fred Meyer
    • Wal-Mart
    • Jostens
    • QVC
no dirty gold campaign29
No Dirty Gold Campaign
  • Companies not pledged include:
    • Target
    • Rolex
    • Sears/Kmart
  • Pledging is just the first step
alternatives and solutions
Alternatives and Solutions
  • International Labor Organization’s Convention #169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries
    • Requires culturally-relevant consultation before appropriation of indigenous peoples’ lands and that indigenous peoples participate in benefits of mining
    • Signed and ratified by 19 countries (but none of major gold mining countries)
alternatives and solutions31
Alternatives and Solutions
  • Consumer pressure, boycotts, shareholder resolutions
  • Consider recycled/vintage gold, eco-friendly gold, alternatives to traditional wedding ring/class ring
  • Develop biological and chemical treatments to decrease/destroy cyanide, mercury and other mining contaminants
alternatives and solutions32
Alternatives and Solutions
  • Consider alternative tokens of affection
    • Homemade gifts (cards, photo collages, videos, poems, meals, home improvement projects)
    • Donations to charities
    • Eco-jewelry made from recycled materials by indigenous peoples
      • Profits returned to local communities, providing wide-ranging social and economic benefit
  • Gold production involves significant damage to local communities and the environment and harms men, women and children
  • Production supports human rights abuses, armed conflict, and even terrorism
  • Symbols of love should not be constant reminders of death and destruction
    • Consider alternative symbols of love
    • Work for social justice and change
paper references

Donohoe MT. Flowers, diamonds, and gold: The destructive human rights and environmental consequences of symbols of love. Human Rights Quarterly 2008;30:164-82.