The uncomfortable truth about the jewelry industry and how it is connected to child labor, deforestation, mafia, water pollution, sex trafficking, slavery, forced labor & human trafficking.
When I started my journey towards sustainability I stopped buying jewelry - in the same way that I also stopped buying anything from new (Unless I found sustainable companies that I would feel good about supporting). I made a sustainable vow to avoid buying anything produced under bad conditions, produced in way that harms nature or that was made from non-renewable materials. This is were the first red flags appeared when I thought about the jewelry industry; and it only got worse as I researched it...
Did you know?!
It takes 20 tonnes of earth mining to make a single ring of gold🤯 & there are thousands(!!) of illegal mines worldwide. Illegal mining increases deforestation and pollutes waterways in indigenous areas and are often controlled by local mafia, Guerillas(FARC in Colombia) etc.
Tens of thousands children work gold mines word wide(International Labor Organisation). Once the gold, diamonds etc. ends up in the global market it's almost impossible to find out where your gold comes from or if you are supporting this destruction of nature and vicious exploitation of workers in goldmines. So I took a vow to never buy gold and other non-renewable materials again. I stay away from diamonds too - there’s a reason they are called blood diamonds and blood gold I figured.
It gets worse...
About 28% of gold mined in Peru, 30% of gold mined in Bolivia, 77% of gold mined in Ecuador, 80% of gold mined in Colombia and 80-90% of Venezuelan gold is produced illegally (Organized Crime and Illegally Mined Gold in Latin - Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime).
The report also highlights that the expansion of illegal mining by criminal groups has:
contaminated drinking water with mercury (The Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project found that artisanal gold miners dump more than 30 tons of mercury in rivers and lakes in the Amazon region every year, generating levels as high as 34 times the safe limit for women of childbearing age, whose unborn children could suffer from permanent brain damage from the mercury. The highest risk of mercury exposure and associated health effects was connected to high consumption of local, contaminated fish (mercury accumulates in the tissues of fish), to involvement in gold mining, and to inhalation of airborne mercury from gold buying shops.)
destroyed pristine environments (There has been massive deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Between 2001 and 2013, approximately 1680 square kilometres of forest were cleared (the area of Greater London). Most forest loss occurred in the moist forest ecoregion of Guyana, the Southwest Amazon moist forest of Peru, the Tapajós– Xingú moist forest of Brazil and the Magdalena Valley-Urabá of Colombia. Over 5% of the total surface area of Colombia has been deforested.)
endangered the health of people and ecosystems
The human cost of illegal mining:
The human cost of the expansion of illegal mining is vast. The report by Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime uncovered numerous instances of labour trafficking and exploitation, sex trafficking and child labour. They highlighted these examples in the report:
women and young girls from all over Peru, as young as 12 years old, are recruited through false job offers and trafficked to the mining areas of La Pampa and Delta 1 (both Provinces of Madre de Dios) and La Rinconada (Province of Puno) to work in brothels. It has been calculated that there are approximately 2,000 sex workers employed in the illegal gold mining town of Delta 1 alone, of whom 60% are minors. Peruvian police estimated that in La Riconada there are more than 4,500 Peruvian and Bolivian girls trafficked for sexual exploitation to work in bars frequented by miners;
research carried out by Verité has identified a large number of indicators of forced labour among workers involved in illegal gold mining in the Peruvian Departments of Madre de Dios, Cusco, Puno, and Arequipa;
in Sur de Bolívar, Colombia, 1,500 workers were employed at a mine owned by the wife of an ex-AUC leader and were not able to leave the area without being accompanied by the narco-paramilitary group operating in the area;
in the mining region of Potosí, Bolivia, children can be bought for 3-7 US Dollars;
the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery highlighted illegal gold mining as one of the four sectors in which slavery was most prevalent in Ecuador;
illegal miners exploit individuals from the indigenous Yanomami tribe in Venezuela as cheap mining labour and in several communities Yanomami have been found with slave numbers tattooed on their shoulders.
Now I buy my jewelry second hand or from ethical jewelry brands that uses recycled materials, but I know that it is very privileged to be able to afford ethically produced jewelry, so secondhand jewelry might be the only option for most people - or simply use the jewelry that you already own or borrow and share with family or friends.
Sustainable jewelry brands:
(Contains affiliate links)