Jewellers in the US shout ‘dirty gold’ and oppose Alaskan mining

As shoppers rush to buy last-minute Valentine’s Day gifts, five of the leading jewellery retailers in the US – Tiffany & Co, Ben Bridge Jeweler, Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff and Leber Jeweler –  today pledged their support to permanently protect Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale metal mining, including the proposed Pebble gold mine. The retailers, who had $2.2 billion in sales in 2006, took this step at the invitation of local Alaskans, who seek to protect wild salmon, clean water and traditional Alaskan ways of life from the damaging effects of industrial metal mines. “I am pleased to stand with others in the jewellery industry today in announcing our support for protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining,” said Jon Bridge, Co-CEO/General Counsel of Seattle-based Ben Bridge Jeweler.  “As retail jewellers, we want to be able to tell our customers that the precious metals we use are mined responsibly — that the materials used in the jewellery they purchase have been mined in environmentally friendly ways, respectful of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and the communities that depend on it.”

The controversial Pebble mine is highlighted in a new report released today by the No Dirty Gold consumer campaign led by EARTHWORKS and Oxfam America. The report, Golden Rules: Making the Case for Responsible Mining, claims to document “the toll of irresponsible mining on people, water and wildlife at a time when soaring metals prices are driving new mining development globally. The report describes human rights violations and environmental concerns at metals mines in the US and around the world.” (To download a copy of the report, visit

The retailers are among a group of 28 jewellery retailers, representing 23% of US jewellery sales, who have endorsed the No Dirty Gold campaign’s Golden Rules – human rights and environmental criteria for mining. Today’s announcement takes those commitments a step further.

“Some of the world’s leading jewelers have recognised that the Bristol Bay watershed is a treasure worth protecting. We applaud their principled position and commitment to not source metals from areas of high conservation value,” said Payal Sampat of EARTHWORKS.

The proposed Pebble mine is backed by Anglo American and Canadian firm Northern Dynasty Minerals. The Bristol Bay watershed, where the proposed mine would be located, supports the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery-which is critical to the state’s economy and to the livelihood of many Alaska Native communities.

“We want to express a sincere thank you to these jewellery companies,” said Bobby Andrew, a spokesperson for Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land), an association of eight Alaska Native corporations. “The proposed Pebble mine threatens the wild salmon fishery that has sustained the region’s economy and our people for generations.”

Last year, Nunamta Aulukestai and a diverse group of Alaska Native communities, commercial fishermen, businesses, and sportsmen publicly invited jewellery retailers to express support for the protection of Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining. The invitation ran as a full-page ad in National Jeweler magazine. (see

Resource Media and Oxfam America claim “consumers today are more aware of the human and environmental costs of the goods and services they purchase than ever before. While other business sectors have responded to demand for cleaner, ethically produced goods and services – such as sustainably harvested wood products and fair trade coffee – the mining sector lags behind in terms of embracing an independent system for standards and verification. Some 100,000 consumers in more than 100 countries have signed on to the No Dirty Gold pledge, urging mining companies to provide alternatives to ‘dirty’ gold.”

If they cared to examine things more carefully and more fairly, they would find the mining industry leads other industries in a lot of areas of sustainable development. But NGOs are not noted for impartial thinking when it comes to mining. Gold is an easy target these days.

“Consumers and jewellery retailers across the country have clearly signaled their desire for certified, more ethically produced metals,” noted Raymond C. Offenheiser of Oxfam America. “The question is: when will mining companies step up to meet this obvious demand?”

The No Dirty Gold campaign urges mining companies to find solutions and implement best practices that can be independently verified-at both existing and new operations. 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 describes damaging practices at 17 metals mines around the world. These are the old cherries that these people keep banging on about, ignoring the facts and ignoring scientific principles.

However, they do admit “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 firms have adopted a policy against dumping mine waste in rivers, while others have publicly committed to disclosing payments made to foreign governments.”

US Jewellery Sales, 2006


Sales (millions $)

Wal-Mart * 2,800
Sterling * 2,652
Zale Corp. * 2,202
QVC * 1,500
Tiffany * 1,326
JCPenney * 1,300
Sears 1,100
Finlay Fine Jewelry 920
Helzberg Diamonds * 525
Fred Meyer Jewelers * 495

Note: * indicates signatory to the No Dirty Gold campaign’s Golden Rules.

2006 US Jewellery Sales of Retailers Supporting Bristol Bay Protection

Retailer Sales in million $ Rank in US sales

Note: These retailers represent $2.26 billion in US jewellery sales. Total US sales in 2006 were $62 billion.