Support Marketplace

Jewelry retailers target 'dirty gold'

Drill-rig workers at the Pebble Mine claim in Alaska's Bristol Bay region

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: This is a big week for gold sales. Valentine's Day is Thursday, if you needed a nudge.

Some leading jewelers are using the occasion to push for cleaner gold mining practices.

Today, five retailers, including Tiffany and Fortunoff, announced they're opposing a huge copper and gold mine planned for the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska.

Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk.


Sarah Gardner: This is the first time a group of retail jewelers has publicly opposed a specific mine. An Alaskan coalition of native and environmental groups asked the jewelers to help them fight the Pebble Mine. They fear it will pollute the world's most productive wild salmon fishery.

Jon Bridge is co-CEO of Ben Bridge Jeweler.

Jon Bridge: That's an extremely important industry for both the tourists as well as the native populations and also
for the environment in general.

Pebble Mine is one of the biggest mining projects in the world. It could yield up to $300 billion in gold, copper and other minerals. Mine spokesman Sean McGee says the developers haven't finalized their mining plans:

Sean McGee: We do believe it can be done in a way that it co-exists with fish and wildlife and other important values.

But critics say most gold mines leave behind massive waste dumps that release toxic chemicals. Today's announcement is part of a wider campaign kicked off in 2004 to negotiate environmental standards for gold mining.

Environmentalist Payal Sampat says many jewelers buy their gold from banks and don't know which mines produced it.

Payal Sampat: So perhaps in just a couple of years, a consumer could walk into a store and choose to buy certified ethical gold just as you would buy organic food or fair trade coffee.

Tiffany already sources its gold from a Utah mine it considers cleaner than average. Environmentalists hope to raise consumer awareness just as they did with so-called "blood diamonds."

"Dirty Gold: The Movie" anyone?

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Andrea Gardner is a journalism professor and writer in Pasadena, Calif.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...