Wal-Mart greening its jewelry?

Wal-Mart is rolling out a new line of gold and silver jewelry that they say can can be traced from the mine to the store.

A lake of cyanide at a gold mine in Khakassia, Russia. Cyanide is widely used to extract gold from low-grade ore.
Wal-Mart's Love, Earth is the retailer's first completely traceable jewelry line.

Wal-Mart is rolling out a new line of gold and silver jewelry that they say can can be traced from the mine to the store.

The company's Love, Earth line of bracelets, necklaces, and earrings will be sold in the discount megastores, Sam's Club warehouses, and online. Customers will be able to log onto the store's website and see where their piece of jewelry was mined and learn about the environmental and social practices of the miners, refineries, factories, and distributors.

To develop its new jewelry line, Wal-Mart partnered with Conservation International. In a press release, a spokesman for the biodiversity advocacy group spoke of the advantages of teaming up with the world's largest retailer of jewelry (and just about ever other product).

"With its considerable influence, market reach and commitment to sustainability, Wal-Mart has brought together like-minded suppliers, mining companies and conservation partners to work together to build a traceable jewelry supply chain at an impressive scale," said Dr. Assheton Stewart Carter, Senior Director of Business Policies and Practices at Conservation International. "We hope others in the jewelry industry will follow this leadership example and thus enable consumers to make simple choices that benefit the environment and mining communities when shopping for jewelry."

The raw materials for Wal-Mart's Love, Earth line are extracted by the Anglo-Australian mining company, Rio Tinto, and a major gold producer, Newmont Mining Corp.

These companies are interesting choices, to say the least. Rio Tinto is currently fighting a suit under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act that blames the company for the deaths of thousands of Bougainville islanders in Papua New Guinea. Rio Tinto's copper mine, the suit alleges, resulted in environmental destruction and crimes against humanity stemming from a military blockade motivated by civilian resistance to the mine.

According to Scorecard, a US pollution information site, in 2002 Newmont was operating some of America's dirtiest mines. According to The New York Times, villagers in Buyat Bay on Indonesia's Sulawesi island filed a $543 million lawsuit against Newmont contending that arsenic waste from their mining killed an infant and destroyed local fisheries.

Nevertheless, Wal-Mart believes that a more transparent supply chain will lead to overall industry improvements. According to Reuters, the discount retailer is taking the long view.

Under Chief Executive Lee Scott, Wal-Mart has set goals of one day using only renewable energy and creating zero waste, and has challenged its suppliers to follow in its footsteps.[...
Wal-Mart's long-term goal is to ensure that 100 percent of the gold, silver and diamonds used in the jewelry it sells in its U.S. stores is sourced from mines and produced by manufacturers that meet its sustainability standards.
Those standards currently include minimization of waste and pollution; safe disposal of waste and hazardous materials; respect for employee rights; and compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
While Wal-Mart's [spokeswoman Tara] Raddohl could not estimate when it might meet that long-term goal, she said Wal-Mart wants at least 10 percent of its jewelry offerings to meet those standards by 2010.

[via Grist]

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