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Valentine's Pledge from Jewelry Sellers

Haider Rizvi

Some of the nation's top jewelers declared Tuesday they were ready to dump gold miners who abuse indigenous communities and their environment.0213 07

"We want to be able to tell our customers that the precious metals we use are mined responsibly," Jon Bridge told a news conference, as millions shopped for jewelry ahead of Valentine's Day.

Bridge, who runs Ben Bridge Jeweler, a giant jewelry retailer, said he and other industry leaders were responding particularly to reports on the impact of a proposed gold mine in Alaska's Bristol Bay watershed.

Local communities in the Bristol Bay area have repeatedly charged that large-scale mining -- in particular the proposed Pebble Mine -- would damage their environment, wildlife, economy, and traditional ways of life.

In addition to Ben Bridge, leading retailers in the jewelry business including Tiffany & Co., Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff, and Leber Jeweler said they were against large-scale mining operations in the Bristol Bay watershed.

They pledged they would make sure to sell only those products supplied by miners who respect the indigenous communities in Bristol Bay, their environment, and their economic resources, such as salmon fisheries.

Environmental activists and Alaskan natives campaigning against large-scale mining in Bristol Bay welcomed the industry's initiative.

"We applaud their principled position and commitment to not source metals from areas of high conservation value," said Payal Sampat of the environmental group EARTHWORKS, which is leading a worldwide campaign called "No Dirty Gold."

EARTHWORKS campaigners released a new report Tuesday detailing widespread abuses of human rights and environmental destruction caused by mining operations across the world.

Prepared in part by the international nonprofit group Oxfam, the report, entitled, "Golden Rules: Making the Case for Responsible Mining," shows that large-scale mining operations have had extremely negative impacts on the indigenous communities and wildlife of Alaska and many other communities worldwide.

The industry leaders who made today's pledge to protect the residents of Bristol Bay are among 28 jewelry retailers -- representing some 23 percent of the annual sale of jewelry products in the United States -- who have agreed to abide by the human rights and environmental criteria set out in the report.

The Pebble Mine plan for Bristol Bay is backed by UK-based Anglo American, one of the world's largest metals mining companies, and the Canadian firm Northern Dynasty Minerals.

The proposed mine, according to environmentalists, would impact the world's most productive wild salmon fishery, which is deemed critical to the state's economy and to the livelihood of many native communities.

"[It] threatens the wild salmon fishery that has sustained the region's economy and our people for generations," said Bobby Andrew, a spokesperson for Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land), an association of native entrepreneurs.

"We want to express a sincere thank you to these jewelry companies," Andrew added in a statement.

Campaigners say some 100,000 consumers in more than 100 countries have signed on to their statement urging mining companies to provide alternatives to "dirty" gold.

"Consumers and jewelry retailers across the country have clearly signaled their desire for certified, more ethically produced metals," noted Raymond C. Offenheiser of Oxfam America. "When will mining companies step up to meet this obvious demand?"

According to the campaign's new report, mining practices in places like Ghana, Indonesia, Nevada, and other parts of the world continue to pollute air and water, damage farmland and forests, and, in some parts of the world, fuel violent conflict.

The report identifies damaging practices at 17 metals mines around the world, including:

- Grasberg mine in Indonesia, which is owned by U.S.-based Freeport McMoRan, may be the largest single producer of industrial waste worldwide, and required the appropriation of land from indigenous communities and displaced part of a pristine rain forest.

- Jerritt Canyon mine in Nevada, owned by Yukon-Nevada Gold Corporation, which is a leading source of airborne mercury pollution in the United States.

- Bogoso/Prestea Mine in Ghana, owned by the Canadian firm Golden Star Resources, which has contaminated drinking water and local fisheries with cyanide spills in violation of the industry's voluntary "Cyanide Code."

Despite such practices, activists say there are promising signs within the industry that some operations are responding to community concerns and consumer demands for more responsibly mined gold.

For example, a number of companies have adopted a policy against dumping mine waste in rivers, while others have publicly committed to disclosing payments made to foreign governments.

And a new initiative -- called the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance -- hopes to certify jewelry and other products that are more responsibly produced, aiding shoppers who want to choose only products that do not harm local communities or the environment.

© 2008 One World

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