Diamonds Aren't Forever.

Environmental Degradation and Civil War in the Gem Trade

Gleaming gems shining from plush velvet cases in quiet jewelry

stores make it easy to forget that some of these symbols of love and

prosperity originated in distant lands, deep in the soil of conflict.

It's illegal in the United States to dump the finely ground

ore materials known as "tailings" into waterways. But gem

mining operations outside U.S. borders are not subject to the same

rules, even if run by American companies or if their goods are bought by

U.S. consumers. Large-scale demand calls for large-scale mining, which

involves massive amounts of sedimentation and tailings falling into

water systems around the world. The mercury and cyanide used to separate

gold and copper from rock also finds its way into groundwater. The

victims of these mining activities are generally local wildlife and

indigenous peoples who live in resource-rich regions.

For example, New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan was sued in 1996 by

indigenous leaders in Papua New Guinea for dumping 80,000 tons of mine

tailings into the local river system daily. Freeport's

environmental auditors, Dames and Moore, said plans to expand

Freeport's mining activities in Indonesia could "increase its

dumping of untreated tailings to 285,000 tons daily."

The diamond trade in Angola, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone and the

Democratic Republic of the Congo has become one of the greatest sources

of internal and environmental conflict in those areas. According to the

Africa Policy Information Center, Angolan rebels made an estimated $3.7

billion in diamond sales between 1992 and 1998 to fund their war effort

against the Angolan government. Until the war is over, enforcing

environmentally sensitive mining techniques will continue to be placed

on the back burner. Meanwhile, diverted rivers are causing people to

dislocate, dredging ponds are ruining large areas of land, and the

polluted water table has caused sickness in mining communities, local

villages and wildlife.

Mining for jewels, however, is not inherently destructive. People

have been finding valuable gems and minerals for centuries by panning in

rivers at little environmental cost. There are even "theme

parks" scattered across America that let you "mine your own


Our romance with the stone employs thousands of people in

gem-trading countries such as Namibia and South Africa, bolstering their

economies. Most mining operations in the U.S. and other countries have

extensive regulations requiring environmental assessments and land

reclamation plans. Mines are expected to consider how their activities

will affect native fish and wildlife, as well as abide by rules

regarding air and water protection, waste disposal and the handling of

hazardous materials. In the U.S., state reclamation laws call for

revegetation, area cleanup and protection of surface and groundwater.

But the jewelry trade is a global, interweaving system of importers

and exporters, miners and cutters, buyers and sellers. With no

country-of-origin labeling system, consumers can never be sure if their

jewelry came from a responsible source or one whose mining funded a

civil war, leaked cyanide into groundwater or exploited indigenous

people for their resources.

Jewelry Without Guilt

The tradition of diamonds and gold, especially for wedding and

engagement rings, is firmly embedded in our culture, but we can adorn

ourselves using more environmentally sustainable alternatives. If the

thought of "eco-jewelry" brings visions of friendship

bracelets made from organic cotton or acres of hemp necklaces, never

fear--more artists and designers are using recycled materials to create

wearable art that looks like anything but junk.

Australia-based Simon Harrison Designs creates a broad selection of

jewelry made from recycled glass, coconut beads and handmade glass

beads. The colors, unsurprisingly, are those of the most commonly used

bottles: amber, olive, green, jade, clear and blue. The company gives

two percent of its sales to a fund that supplies rice and other

necessities to communities in the Philippines. Another player in the

recycled glass jewelry market is Jody Freij-Tonder. She uses bottles,

jars, windows and stained glass for her line of earrings (three pairs

for $25) sold through Blue Skies Glassworks. Junk to Jewels turns old

beads, electronic and bicycle parts into strangely beautiful jewelry: A

circuit board becomes a pendant ($30); electrical wire and blue wooden

beads form the illusion of a turquoise necklace ($18).

Eco-Artware.com's artists also offer a wide variety of recycled,

reused and natural materials. At its online boutique, you'll find

pins ($22 to $32) made from used Mardi Gras costumes, ball gowns and

wires from broken TV sets. Old issues of Vogue magazine find a second

fashion life in the paper bead jewelry ($12 to $28) made by Louisa and

Yongwoo Kim.

For socially responsible jewelry, consider Global Marketplace,

which helps poor artisans rise above the poverty line. Global

Marketplace describes itself as "a nonprofit, grassroots community

development organization." Members of the Co-op America Business

Network and the Fair Trade Federation, the company returns as much of

the sales price as possible to the local artists. For example, purchases

of Haitian ceramic necklaces ($7.50 each) help support the Haitian women

who handmade the wares. Global Marketplace also offers beaded, stone,

copper, hematite, hemp, pewter, ceramic and silver selections.

And if, for you, there is still no substitute for gold and jewels,

some companies make sure the people and environment from where their

jewelry came are respected. One such firm is Snooty Jewelry. The company

uses no animal products (leather, pearls, shell, bone) in its designs,

uses 100 percent post-consumer waste and soy-based inks in packaging,

and 10 percent of its profits go to animal, human and environmental

welfare groups. Snooty Jewelry's wide selection of sterling silver

and 14-karat gold earrings, necklaces and bracelets are available with

gems such as amythest, garnet, jade, sapphires and emeralds ($5 to $80).

EnviroWatch also offers a line of high-quality sterling silver earrings

($35) and bracelets ($50) depicting dolphins, sharks, turtles, manatees

and elephants. The jewelry sales help EnviroWatch in its efforts to ban

shark finning, reduce the impacts of fisheries on protected species and

support environmental justice projects. CONTACT: Blue Skies Glassworks,

(800)388-8698, www.lakenet .com/glass4mj; Eco-Artware.com, (877)

326-2781, www.eco-artware.com; EnviroWatch, www.envirowatch.org/jewelry

.htm; Global Marketplace, www.global marketplace.org; Junk to Jewels,

(301)3600699, www.junktojewels.net; Simon Harrison Designs, (301)

854-0208, www.harrisondesign.com; Snooty Jewelry, (877)884-4367,


KATHERINE KERLIN is associate editor of E.

Diamonds Aren't Forever. 1

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