Conflict Gold: A “Growing Issue”

Sasha Lezhnev, a consultant with the Enough Project, the main group involved in “conflict minerals,” took time to speak with me today, and strongly indicated that the attention surrounding “conflict gold” won’t just end with last week’s 60 Minutes piece.

Here are excerpts from our talk. Supersellers watch out …

Is gold an important contributor to the unrest in the Congo?

It is. We did a lot of research into how much money the armed groups are making based on field trips as well as a lot of research. We estimated that tin is the biggest money earner, followed by gold, then tantalum [coltan] and tungsten. Gold is increasing as a problem as the price goes up. Armed groups are tracking that.

Do you plan to talk more with the jewelry industry?

We want to engage the jewelry industry. We would welcome a dialogue with companies, in particular the $100 million Supersellers.  We spoke to the person [JA chairman Matt Runci] who was in the 60 Minutes piece.

We are planning a survey that will rank the Supersellers based on their performance on the conflict mineral issue. It will look at how well they have their gold traced, audited and certified.    I was part of the Global Witness/Amnesty team that wrote the report on retailers’ compliance with the Kimberley Process around the time of the Blood Diamond movie. This survey will mirror that.

Do you expect the issue of the “conflict gold” to have more consumer awareness?

Our campaign is focused on “conflict minerals.” We have been focused on all four of the conflict minerals but [the 60 Minutes piece] will focus attention on gold specifically. Certainly, since the 60 Minutes piece, we have been getting inundated with calls and emails. Our web site crashed for a bit from so much traffic. There is a growing consumer movement we are interested in partnering with.

 Do you want to see a Kimberley Process for gold?

Yes. We would support a certification process that involves tracing and auditing and builds on the lessons of the Kimberley Process. Certification is a term that is often thrown around. We want to make sure that any certification has some strong criteria.

Would it be a government run system, like the KP?

I think that companies and governments will have a role to play in it. The model for the KP was that De Beers, being the industry leader, helped to drive the change and then other countries that were diamond producers helped set it up. I think that governments that regulate these minerals, as well as companies that can regulate their supply chain, have important rules to play.

Anything else you want to say to the jewelry industry?

I have been talking to people across the country. I lecture to a number of universities and every time we bring the conflict minerals issue up. it gets a lot of attention, not just from students but from women’s groups as well. This is a growing issue for grass roots groups across the country.

JCK News Director