For centuries, mining for precious metals and gems has often caused harm to the local people, wildlife, and environment. In the United States, for example, half the mercury contamination in San Francisco Bay is traceable to the 1849 California Gold Rush. In Colorado, U.S. taxpayers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to contain contamination in one town’s local rivers from a 1990s-bankrupt gold mine. In Montana, years of outsiders’ heap-leach gold mining on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation left its water fouled. The U.S. West is “pockmarked by huge [mining] craters,” some visible from space, and there are “tens of thousands of abandoned mines, many emitting an orange-red, acid-laced runoff called ‘yellow boy’ [that has] poisoned more than 16,000 miles of Western streams,” reported the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2001.
In Papua New Guinea, local leaders sued a U.S. gem-mining company for dumping 80,000 tons of tailings—what’s left after separating gem material from ore—into local rivers daily. In Africa, conflict diamonds were mined by forced labor in areas controlled by rebels opposed to legitimate governments and sold clandestinely to fund brutal insurgencies and local warlords. Not a pretty picture—and those are only a few examples.
However, the domestic and global jewelry industry, throughtrade organizations and coalitions, has taken effective steps to change that picture. Since mining is literally the jewelry trade’s bedrock (e.g., over 69 percent of mined gold is used in jewelry), the industry—prompted by past criticisms, consumers’ growing awareness of gem and metals sourcing, and desire for “green” products—is acting to ensure that its supply chain operates environmentally and ethically.
Leading the movement is Jewelers of America, representing some 11,000 U.S. retail jewelers. “We believe that by working together as an industry, through the entire supply chain, to adopt responsible mineral sourcing standards, we can have the greatest impact,” says Matthew R. Runci, JA’s president and CEO.
Industry concerns about responsible mining and mineral sourcing intensified this decade, most notably because of negative publicity about conflict diamonds. In 2001, JA and the World Diamond Council (of which JA is a founding member) called for immediate government action to “halt the insidious traffic” and joined a coalition of religious, humanitarian, and human rights groups that pushed Congress to adopt the Clean Diamond Trade Act, passed in 2003. That authorized U.S. compliance with the international Kimberley Certification Scheme, which tracks diamonds from mines to stores to assure manufacturers, retailers, and consumers that they aren’t buying conflict diamonds. JA represented the U.S. retail jewelry trade in establishing the Kimberley Process, lobbied hard for the CDTA, and provided its members with guidance on WDC’s system of warranties, all to support responsible diamond mining.
The issues raised by conflict diamonds led to intra-industry initiatives to deal with problems caused by metal and gemstone mining and address public and media perceptions of mining. Two international organizations at the forefront of these campaigns are the Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices and the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance.
CRJP (www.responsiblejewellery.com), cofounded by JA in 2005 and chaired by JA’s Runci, promotes ethical, social, and environmental standards in the gem and jewelry supply chain, which its members—including mines, manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers—agree to follow. Starting this year, an independent third-party monitoring system will check their compliance. CRJP also plans to adopt IRMA’s standards, now in development, for its own mining members. IRMA (www.responsiblemining.net), launched in Canada in 2006, is a global collaborative effort of the jewelry and mining industries, plus human rights and environmental groups. Its stated aim is creating “comprehensive, responsible sourcing standards for mining operations” and a system of independent monitors to check compliance “to provide the greatest assurance to consumers.” Active in both CRJP and IRMA is the World Gold Council, which includes some of the globe’s largest gold-mining companies. WGC, in collaboration with some mining companies, also sponsors two Web sites on responsible gold issues (TrustInGold.com and ResponsibleGold.org).
Another responsible-mining effort is the Diamond Development Initiative, whose board of directors includes JA. Formed in 2005 in London by representatives of the United Nations; European Commission; British, Canadian, U.S., and other governments; World Bank; diamond industry; and civil organizations in Europe, North America, and Africa, its primary concern is the million-plus African artisanal (i.e., independent) diamond diggers living in poverty in lands recovering from war. DDI addresses the political, social, and economic challenges facing them, bringing NGOs, governments, and the private sector together to, in its words, “convert diamonds from a fuel for war into an engine for development [and create] sustainable methods of ensuring diamonds are mined and distributed for the benefit of local communities and local governments.”
JA is also a cofounder and steering committee member of the Madison Dialogue (named for NYC’s Madison Avenue, where it began in 2006). It involves more than two dozen jewelry organizations, retailers, leaders, and interested groups, including the Association for Responsible Mining, Ben Bridge Jewelers, Conservation International, De Beers, Ethical Metalsmiths, Leber Jewelers, Partnership Africa Canada, and Tiffany. The goal, says its statement, is to develop “best practices, sustainable economic development, and verified sources of responsible gold, diamonds, and other minerals.” Participants are involved in various efforts, including the Kimberley Process, DDI, IRMA, and certification of fair-trade gold, diamonds, and other minerals. Recently, JA helped organize the 2007 Madison Dialogue Ethical Jewelry Summit at World Bank headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Members met with representatives of artisanal and small-scale mines plus community members to discuss ethical jewelry and small-scale mining issues. It reached an accord to create “credible ethical jewelry products [that] help bring sustainable economic, social, and environmental benefits to the artisanal and small-scale mining sector.”
Stateside, JA also is focused on responsible mining. It has lobbied Congress hard for the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, which calls for better protection of the environment, outdoor areas, and communities affected by nearby mines. “Our members have a direct stake in a healthy, profitable, and responsible mining sector in the United States, and this legislation is a meaningful step forward in reaching that goal,” said Runci in a letter to Congress. While JA supports “the viability of mining companies that produce jewelry’s raw materials,” he said, “our members also realize that the current  Mining Law doesn’t address the considerable impact of mining on watersheds, wildlife, or local communities. Failure to modernize the law has proven expensive to Americans and to our environment. JA members see reforms as both necessary and urgent.”
Specifically, JA says reforms should protect the environment and set strong standards to protect air and water quality, local communities’ health, and fish and wildlife habitats; protect outdoor values and resources and allow for consideration of mining and other potential uses of public lands, including conservation; provide a fair return to taxpayers from federal mineral resources “to address our national legacy of abandoned mines”; and allow communities to participate in decisions affecting their land and communities.
The bill passed the House in late 2007. At press time, it awaited Senate action. Prior attempts there to reform the 1872 mining law have failed. However, JA will “continue to monitor mining reform legislation until we see the law changed,” says Runci.
For jewelers, the most direct recent effect of JA’s efforts is its Responsible Gold Confidence Pack, which contains three documents they can use. The first is JA’s Statement on Responsible Gold (also at www.jewelers.org), which says JA members expect business partners to “adhere to socially and environmentally responsible business practices. [Jewelers] take the impact of the gold jewelry supply chain seriously, and believe gold should be extracted and processed in a manner that respects the needs of current and future generations.” It notes that jewelers expect “every point in the supply chain” to have that commitment.
The second document is a statement about gold mining that jewelers can use with consumers, as a handout, and online. It includes JA, CRJP, IRMA, and WGC Web site addresses. The third is a sample letter on responsible gold mining, which articulates JA members’ support for it and can be sent in answer to consumer or media inquiries. JA’s RGCP “affirms our members’ expectations that supply partners will source gold responsibly,” says John Cohen, past president of JA’s board of directors and co-chairman of Carlyle & Co., Greensboro, N.C. “The documents also enable them to quickly convey to the public that they believe gold should be extracted and processed in socially and environmentally responsible ways, and that our industry is working to improve the supply chain.”