A few blocks from the jewelry factory's entrance in La Paz, Bolivia, Julia and Maria look over their shoulders to see if the night guards are watching. The two young Aymara Indian women shiver in the cold night air and lower their heads as they speak.
"It's a horrible experience, but it's what I have to do to feed my kids," says Julia, a 20-something mother of two. "Supervisors yell at us constantly, and if we don't finish our work quickly enough, we are told: 'The doors are open for you to go.' "
Says Maria: "There isn't even soap or adequate masks to protect from the dust." Their list goes on — insufficient pay, strip searches upon exiting, discouragement from attending night school because it would interfere with work.
Barely a few moments have gone by and they are nervously shifting in place. After another over-the-shoulder glance, Julia's slightly widened eyes say, "We've got to go." Courage spent, they pull their jackets tighter against the chilly wind and walk off toward their homes in the impoverished neighboring city of El Alto.
The two women don't know it, but thousands of miles away, their daily labor is sold by South Florida-based jewelry manufacturer Aurafin under the guise of "responsible sourcing." (Names of current and former Aurafin factory workers have been changed to avoid retribution.) In 2008, Aurafin teamed up with Walmart, and the largest retailer on Earth sells this so-called responsibly sourced jewelry under a product line named Love, Earth. Aurafin and Walmart say the jewelry is made in conditions that favor the workers and the environment, a claim contradicted by tales from current and former workers.
Love, Earth's gold comes from U.S. mines no more environmentally friendly than other mining operations, which critics say are responsible for widespread pollution. The precious metal's journey then goes to Bolivia, where Maria and Julia and thousands of other workers toil — many in conditions much worse than the two women's — for the benefit of the U.S. companies. While Love, Earth may shine like gold, that's only varnish. Underneath, its anatomy is greenwash: The product is no better for the environment — or the people who manufacture it — than a standard piece of jewelry.
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