The jewellery journey: from open pit to wedding ring.
Related Dispatches: The Real Price of Gold
Did you know that your gold wedding ring, a symbol of love and commitment, might have been clawed out of the earth by children working in horrendously dangerous conditions? Children who chip away at rock for hours each day to find a fleck of gold.
Did you also know that 18 tonnes of rubble can be produced before you put that gold ring anywhere near your wedding finger?
Very few of us know that the gold mining industry is one of the dirtiest on earth. And why should we? What we buy with our jewellery are hopes and dreams. But the reality is very different. In buying gold jewellery you may be fuelling atrocious working conditions and environmental destruction.
When asked by Dispatches if I would cover this story I was wary. I'm a businesswoman, not a journalist. But that's what they wanted. They knew I had made a profitable business out of an ethical travel company and I fundamentally believe that ethics and commerce can mix. Dispatches wanted me to bring that business sense to the gold industry.
What I found find on my five-month journey was appalling. We discovered children living near a large-scale gold mine in Central America with huge sores and patches of hair loss; scientists have found poisonous levels of lead in their blood.
Most disturbing of all are the heart-rending scenes that I personally witnessed in a dusty 21st century Senegalese gold rush village. Men, women and children crawling down hazardous 12m holes, risking their lives every day desperately digging for gold flecks – the gold that will adorn our necks, arms and ears. Pretty stuff? Pretty ugly.
It gets worse. Back in the UK, I encountered a storm of confusing and inaccurate sales patter from staff at high street jewellery stores about where their gold comes from. Information I received ranged from statements that it was certified as ethically sourced to specific promises that I could be told exactly where the gold in a particular bracelet had been mined. The unfortunate reality is that most gold jewellery retailers have no idea where the gold in their products comes from. The information imparted was not just unclear, it was untrue.
Is There a Solution?
It seems to me there's a business opportunity here for a smart entrepreneur, harnessing our desire for gold and our concerns about ethical sourcing.
Some key facts occurred to me: the price of gold is at an all time high (around £30 a gram); recycled gold is becoming more popular; and there is enough gold jewellery above the ground already to feed the industry for the next 40 years. So perhaps we don't need to mine at all. We're already sitting on a modern-day gold mine in our drawers at home across the country.
But will people buy the concept of recycled gold? You'll have to see for yourself.
What I do know is that we consumers are no longer prepared to have the wool pulled over our eyes. Bold and courageous action is needed from the major jewellery retailers to demand real, tangible and measurable change in sourcing their gold. But you can also be a part of change. And after watching Dispatches I hope you'll feel the need to demand it. You can do that by signing up to the gold pledge campaign.