Valentine's Day Battle for the Hearts of Jewelry Buyers

NEW YORK, New York, February 11, 2005 (ENS) - Gold jewelry sold for Valentine's Day gifts in the United States produces more than 34 million metric tons of mining waste worldwide, according to estimates from two nongovernmental organizations conducting a consumer campaign aimed at changing the way gold is produced and sold.

EARTHWORKS and Oxfam America, say their estimates are based on gold sales in the first two weeks of February. Valentine's Day is the number one holiday for gold jewelry sales in the U.S. gold

Valentine's Day is a big sales day for gold jewelry. (Photo credit unknown)
By contrast, an estimate by the World Gold Council to the end of 2001 pegged the total amount of gold ever mined at about 145,000 metric tons.

The year old "No Dirty Gold" campaign is targeting gold sales because they say, "gold mining is arguably the dirtiest industry in the world" and about 80 percent of the gold mined worldwide is used for jewelry. Valentine's Day is the biggest selling day for gold jewelry in the United States, the two groups say.

"The production of a single 18 Karat gold ring weighing less than an ounce generates at least 20 tons of mine waste," the groups claim.

"Gold loses its luster when it is produced at the expense of healthy communities, clean water and human rights," said Payal Sampat, international dampaign director with EARTHWORKS. "Retailers and consumers are saying this price is too high."

Today, campaigners are distributing Valentine's cards with the message, "Don't tarnish your love with dirty gold," in front of major jewelry and watch stores, including Rolex and Fortunoff, on 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan.

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Ms. Goldzilla addresses shoppers on 5th Ave in New York City. (Photo courtesy No Dirty Gold)
They will be joined by a giant puppet depicting a chic shopper carrying shopping bags full of gold jewelry.

Consumers will be invited to join thousands who have already signed a pledge calling for alternatives to gold that is irresponsibly produced.

On the other side of the coin, the World Gold Council spends millions of dollars to "stimulate consumer demand for gold jewellery in key markets." In September 2004, the Council opened its international advertising campaign, "Speak Gold," designed to "capture the emotional role played by gold jewelery in the lives of women worldwide."

The campaign did not adopt the traditional use of fashion models, but posed women in everyday situations to illustrate contemporary views of everyday life in urban and rural settings.

Philip Olden, the World Gold Council’s managing director of international jewelery and marketing, said, “We believe that strong photography, which not only captures how gold jewelery is worn in different cultures but demonstrates how women have the same profound feelings about the precious metal, gives a powerful message to consumers about why to buy gold and what gold to buy."

Strong emotions are being generated on the responsible gold mining issue as well. The No Dirty Gold campaign has gained momentum in the last year, with groups in Germany, Ghana, Kyrgyzstan, and Peru engaging in similar campaigns.

"Mining companies have polluted our water resources and violated our right to a healthy environment in their rush to riches," said Kalia Moldogazieva, a mining activist from Kyrgyzstan who helped expose the environmental and human health impacts of toxic chemical spills at the Kumtor mine.

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La Colorada gold mine, Sonora, Mexico. This is the cyanide leaching process plant. Enormous areas are set aside for future waste dumps. (Photo courtesy Alberto 'Beto' Barud Zubillaga)
In response to the campaign, leading jewelry and electronics retailers such as Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Helzberg Diamonds, and Harry Winston have voiced support for the campaign's objectives.

"As consumers and retailers learn about the true cost of gold, they are calling for it to be produced in ways that do not harm people and the environment," said Keith Slack, senior policy advisor with Oxfam America.

In the United States, mines generate an amount of waste equivalent in weight to nearly nine times the trash produced by all U.S. cities and towns combined, Oxfam and EARTHWORKS say.

"We want buyers and sellers of gold jewelry to hold mining companies accountable to the communities where they operate," said Carrie Dann from the Western Shoshone Defense Project in Nevada.

This week, students on several campuses, including University of Vermont, University of Colorado, and Yale and American Universities, will also be holding Valentine's Day events on their campuses.

Gold mining is being targeted as an industry ripe for reform through consumer pressure because of the documented human and environmental costs of gold mining.

Most consumers do not realize that in developing countries irresponsible gold mining is associated with protests, human rights abuses, and even imprisonment, along with environmental devastation.

The No Dirty Gold campaign draws from the experience of consumer efforts to end sweatshop labor, promote fair trade coffee, and support sustainable forestry and, like those campaigns, it emphasizes student outreach. In recent months, students at about a dozen colleges in the U.S. and Canada have been organizing to clean up the dirty gold used in class rings.

The World Gold Council says the "universal language and historical relevance that are unique to gold are the key creative concepts" underlying its new ad campaign for 2005 - gold - the "One Language Everyone Understands."