Retailers to hold mine to higher gold standards
Tiffany, Fortunoff and others oppose an Alaskan operation over environmental
By Margot Roosevelt Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 12, 2008
Environmentalists want you to buy organic roses, and human rights groups
tout conflict-free diamonds.
Now, just in time for Valentine's Day, jewelry retailers are stepping up a
campaign that aims to discourage the mining and sale of "dirty gold."
A group of prominent jewelers including Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds and
Fortunoff will announce today that it opposes the massive gold and copper
planned for Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed, site of the world's largest sockeye salmon run.
The jewelers' "Bristol Bay Protection
Pledge" marks a new front in the "No Dirty
Gold" initiative waged by environmental and human rights groups against
destructive mining practices.
It is the first time that retailers, which have hitherto limited themselves
to supporting general rules for mining, have joined in a campaign to halt a
An estimated 80% of the gold used in the U.S. is for jewelry. And gold mines
-- typically huge open pit operations where tiny veins of metal are ground
from millions of tons of rock -- produce an average of 76 tons of waste per
ounce of gold.
The resulting air and water pollution have made metals mining the leading
contributor of toxic emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental
"There are places where mining does not represent the best use of
resources," Michael Kowalski, Tiffany's chairman and chief executive, said
in an e-mail. "In Bristol Bay, we support . . . the salmon fishery as the
best bet for sustainable, long-term benefit. For Tiffany & Co., and we
believe for many of our fellow retail jewelers, this means we will look to
other places to source gold."
Sean McGee, a spokesman for the Pebble Mine, said the jewelers had not
contacted the mine's developers, a partnership of Vancouver, Canada-based
Minerals Ltd. and London-based Anglo American.
"There is a lot of common ground between the Dirty Gold camp and the
approach we are taking," he said. "We support high environmental standards
for mining. If the fisheries can't be protected, we won't advance the
The campaign to clean up gold mines echoes the opposition to so-called blood
diamonds, sold to finance conflicts in developing nations.
In the last few years, jewelers, working with nonprofit groups and the
mining industry, set up a system to ensure diamonds as "conflict-free." Now
the "ethical jewelry" movement is preparing to expand with a certification
program for gold and silver.
"It's what's happening in the marketplace," said Stephen D'Esposito,
president of Earthworks, a Washington-based advocacy group for mining
reform. "Jewelers are highly sensitive to consumer concerns about the impact
of the products they buy. It is a trend you see with food, coffee, wood,
At the moment, retailers cannot tell where their gold has been mined. But in
the coming year, D'Esposito said, jewelers will take the first steps to
establish a chain of custody from mine to store.
A set of standards is under negotiation between mining companies, jewelry
retailers and environmental and human rights groups.
So far, 28 companies, including eight of the 10 largest jewelry retailers in
the U.S. have endorsed the "No Dirty Gold" campaign's "Golden Rules." The
measures seek to ensure that gold is mined without threatening fragile
ecosystems,that waste is not dumped into waterways and that workers' rights
Signatories include Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Sterling Jewelers Inc., which
markets Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria brands.
Earthworks wants all 28 companies that signed the Golden Rules pledge -- and
others -- to also sign the Bristol Bay pledge. So far, only five have done
so (besides Tiffany, Helzberg and Fortunoff, they are Ben Bridge Jeweler and
Leber Jeweler Inc.).
Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest jewelry retailer, is reviewing the measure.
"We are committed to sourcing gold and other metals produced under the
highest social, human rights and environmental standards,"spokeswoman Linda
Worldwide shortages and skyrocketing prices for gold and copper are fueling
the push for Pebble Mine, which holds an estimated $300 billion in gold,
copper and molybdenum. Northern Dynasty executives say the mine will bring
well-paying jobs to an impoverished area of rural Alaska.
If the mine, which lies on the edge of two national parks, gains the
necessary permits from the state of Alaska, it would involve excavating as
much as 12 billion tons of earth which, after extracting the ore, would fill
10 square miles of impoundments. Two dams would be built to hold the waste.
"These lands were selected by the state of Alaska for their mineral
potential, an important part of the rural economy," McGee said.
But Dan Consenstein, head of the Renewable Resources
Coalition, an Alaska-based
group that opposes the project, said pollution from the mine would destroy
the fishery, a globally significant resource and economic backbone of the
A coalition of native villages, sports fishing lodges and environmental
groups has filed a ballot initiative to stop the mine, but the mining
companies are battling it in court.