People of all cultures have always adorned themselves in some way, including with jewelry. In addition to pretty decoration, it’s often been used to show status and wealth. Until recently, most people haven’t paid much attention to how our bling becomes the twinkly baubles we like. The Hollywood movie Blood Diamond brought attention to the issue of conflict diamonds, but what about gold?
The Associated Press recently released a story about their exploration of gold mines in selected countries in Africa. What they found in these mines were thousands of children. As they say:
If you wear a gold ring on your finger, write with a gold-tipped fountain pen or have gold in your investment portfolio, chances are good your life is connected to these children. One of them is Saliou Diallo. He’s 12 years old and less than 4 feet tall.
In addition to the atrocious conditions, the children are regularly exposed to toxins, such as the mercury used to find the little bits of gold:
Mercury attracts gold like a magnet. But it also attacks the brain and can cause tremors, speech impediments, retardation, kidney damage and blindness. Saliou’s tub of dirt yields a silvery ball the size of an M&M. He hands it to his boss, who lifts up his shades to eye it. The man heats the ball over a charcoal fire to make the mercury evaporate, leaving behind a fleck of gold.
Just handling mercury is treacherous; breathing its fumes is worse. The children don’t know that. They crowd for a glimpse of the gold as its silvery husk slowly vaporizes. At mealtime, Saliou rinses his hands in water from a muddy pool where the mercury run-off was dumped. He scoops a mouthful of rice and licks his hand clean.
And, although most people would prefer to avoid gold made with child labor, it’s not easy to know the sources of gold:
The trail of gold that begins in Saliou’s mercury-tainted hands ends with bullion in bank vaults and with necklaces, rings and bracelets sold by jewelry retailers all over the world. Precisely which products contain child-mined gold, no one can say for sure. Unlike a diamond, gold does not keep its identity on its tortuous journey from mine to market. It passes through 10 or more hands. And when it is melted, usually several times, and mixed with gold from other sources, its address is effectively erased.
In addition to the issue of child labor, the journey of gold — from mine to someone’s body, bank vault or investment portfolio — is filled with environmental devastation and significant impacts on communities and adult workers. No Dirty Gold provides a brief overview of the issues, as well as campaign materials.
Since I don’t wear much jewelry, and my tastes are usually on the simple, cheap side, I can’t with any authority recommend specific jewelry companies as alternatives. If you do a web search for “fair trade” jewelry, or “fair trade” gold, or ethical or eco-friendly jewelry for example, you’ll find that several companies pop up. My husband’s niece and her fiance have even started their own “ethical gold” company, called Urth Jewellry. (This isn’t a plug, I promise!) You can find out more about why they started their company in this interview. I learned a lot from them about conditions in mines in Bolivia and Madagascar, the two countries they’re working with to be able to produce ethical gold.
If it troubles you to think about the source and impact of your rings, necklaces, bracelets, pins and earrings, consider some other choices:
- Don’t buy any jewelry. Consider how much joy and meaning it brings to your life. Do you really need it? Do you really want it that much?
- Make your own. There are an almost infinite number of possibilities for creating your own jewelry that pleases you, looks good, and harms no person, animal or part of the planet. And it’s fun!
- Borrow or swap. Like something your friend wears? Ask if you can borrow it! Offer something s/he likes in return. Have Jewelry swap parties. There are endless options.
- Go used. You can find all sorts of jewelry at thrift shops, garage sales, etc.
- If you’re into more expensive jewelry, consider why. I’ve always been puzzled about why people get so crazy over jewels and expensive jewelry. They have the value (both monetary and emotional) that they do, because we’ve given them that value. (Of course the jewelry company ads have certainly helped.) Do you seriously think that your significant other spending tons of money on jewels means that s/he loves you? Aren’t there better, healthier, more meaningful ways for that love to be manifested? And, if you’re one of those lucky folks who has tons of money to spend, then wouldn’t the amount of your wealth be better displayed by using it to help create a peaceful, compassionate, sustainable world?
- Choose jewelry made from less traditional, more sustainable materials. Take rings, for example. They can be made of sustainable wood and cork, glass, and several other materials that are lovely, and much more ethical.
- Consider recycled jewelry. In addition to recycled gold, silver, etc., you can find all sorts of more unique creations created out of everything from forks to bike chains to computer chips to toothbrushes.
- Buy fair trade, conflict-free, eco-friendly, and all the other appropriate labels. Just make sure that the labels mean what you think they mean.
- Have someone reputable (who can verify where and how the materials they use were produced and transported) create custom jewelry for you.
Filed under: Consumerism, environmental preservation, human rights, MOGO Tips, positive choices | Tagged: child labor, environmental preservation, gold, health, human rights, indigenous communities, jewelry, mining, pollution | Leave a comment »