UK jewellery giants in spotlight over dirty gold

Deirdre Bounds campaigning on the streets of London.

Channel 4 Dispatches reveals poor staff knowledge and child miners.

Channel 4’s current affairs programme Dispatches has gone undercover to investigate the gold sold through some of the high street’s biggest jewellery retailers.

The programme has apparently revealed that British consumers are being given the wrong information by retailers when buying gold jewellery.

Filming secretly in Britain’s biggest high street jewellery chains including Argos, Goldsmiths, H. Samuel, Ernest Jones and Leslie Davis, Dispatches has footage of shop assistants giving incorrect information about where the gold in their jewellery is sourced.

Story continues below
Advertisement

The statements and information given by sales staff reflects inferior training or misunderstanding of processes and concepts within jewellery manufacture. Inaccurate statements included:

• A Goldsmiths employee stating that the chain’s gold is certified by the Kimberley Process.

• An Argos employee stating that all the retailer’s gold was mined in Italy. Argos later admitted inaccurate information had been given.

• In Leslie Davis, an employee stated that gold in the shop "has to be ethically sourced". In addition, the employee stated that the company’s head office could provide information about where the gold used for a particular item of jewellery was mined. The head office later confirmed by phone that this was inaccurate.

Wholesaler Cookson Precious Metals was also investigated by the programme. As one of the biggest manufacturers in the UK, the Cookson website states it is working closely with its customers and suppliers in support of environmentally and ethically sound sources for precious metals.

Dispatches secretly filmed a meeting with a Cookson sales manager and though he appeared to be aware of the risks faced by gold miners in developing countries, he was unable to give customers assurances about where the company’s gold was sourced from. A section of the programme shows the sales manager state: "We get asked this a lot…where does your gold come from, what do you do to make sure that no-one’s killed in the mining…all we can say is that we buy it from reputable, reputable sources such as HSBC…we can’t get any guarantees out of those, but you can’t get the guarantee out of anybody, and so we just can’t do any more than that, really."

Dispatches also said that the Cookson sales manager claimed that in the future the company would be charging a premium for an ethical alternative of 100% recycled gold, adding that the company could do so “because we can”.

The programme also delves into the amount of gold that is still being sourced unethically by sections of a gold mining industry that continues to exploit child miners, exposing both them and the communities who live near some mines to dangerously high levels of toxic poisoning and destroying the environment.

Businesswoman Deirdre Bounds, who front the programme, ran a successful ethical travel company and believes that commerce and ethics can be a profitable combination. During the show, Bounds examines how much the British gold jewellery industry really knows about where the gold they sell comes from.  The program claims that by purchasing gold jewellery on the British high street consumers are inadvertently supporting child labour and environmental damage.

Bounds says: “Many of us are seduced by the appeal of gold jewellery, but there is a real human cost attached to its production. High street stores need to be absolutely transparent and proactive in informing British consumers where the gold in their jewellery is sourced from. Only then can consumers make an informed decision. In the meantime, Bounds is appealing to the British public to sign a pledge opposing the sale of dirty gold.”

The Dispactches programme will air on Channel 4 on Monday, at 8pm, with a further focus on small-scale and artisanal mining, the number of children employed as gold miners and its impact on the local environment.

Professional Jeweller contacted the jewellery companies involved in the documentary about the show’s findings. The comments from those companies are listed below.

Goldsmiths – Aurum
Justin Stead, chief executive of Aurum, owner of Goldsmiths, approached Dispatches on several occasions and offered himself for interview to no avail. In a statement released by Goldsmiths, they explained:

"We offered to provide Dispatches a full response through an interview with the chief executive of Goldsmiths and placed ourselves at their full disposal. An offer that Dispatches continually declined, without providing any reason that can lead us only to conclude to be editorial bias. We remain willing to talk to Dispatches at any time to outline our leading position in supporting the campaign against Dirty Gold and promoting Fairtrade whenever they are willing to interview us.

We have a strong focus on corporate citizenship and all matters relating to the ethical/moral responsibility of managing and sourcing goods and services. This is very important to us and to our suppliers and partners. It forms only part of our good corporate citizenship platform with many other initiatives centred around environmental awareness, community engagement and continual support of many charities. If we had been given the opportunity, we could have demonstrated our commitment to and support of the cause Dispatches is trying to raise awareness for through this programme. One engagement in Victoria is not enough to judge or assess our concern and our company’s stand on such a crucial issue. Additionally, the employee within this situation was answering in good faith about the company’s position whether it be in regard to Gold, or Diamond sourcing."

Ernest Jones, H Samuel and Leslie Davis – Signet Group UK
At the time of this news story going online, Signet were in the process of making a statement to Professional Jeweller

Argos – Home Retail Group
Argos’ responded to the Dispatches report with the following comments:

"In response, Argos is disappointed to learn that one of our store colleagues responded to the questions regarding gold sourcing with inaccurate information. We do have a very clear policy which is documented in our catalogue and online and we are sorry this was not communicated correctly in this instance.

Argos is committed to being a responsible retailer. We are members of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) and we require our jewellery suppliers to become members of the RJC or similar organisation. Argos is committed to being a responsible retailer and this is reflected in our approach to ethical sourcing.

We will be improving the way we communicate our gold policy to colleagues and customers including putting in place additional training and placing customer information in our stores.

Argos believes there is a clear need for the jewellery industry as a whole to seek high standards of supply chain scrutiny. We are members of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) in order to work with the wider jewellery industry to achieve greater visibility and influence over the sourcing of gold and diamonds for our products.

We require our jewellery suppliers to become members of the RJC or any similar organisation which works to assure compliance with equivalent principles and codes of practice or to ensure that manufacturing facilities are independently verified to ensure compliance with the requirements of the RJC Codes of Practice.

Membership of RJC requires a commitment to promoting responsible business practices in the jewellery supply chain and the operation of business in accordance with RJC prevailing principles and codes of practice on business ethics, human rights, social and environmental practices adapted by the Council. RJC members are required to be independently audited to the codes of practice.

Additionally, our suppliers are required to warrant that they will not source diamonds from conflict regions, enabling us to meet the aims and requirements of the ‘Kimberley Process’."
 

Cookson Precious Metals
At the time of this news story going online, Cookson were in the process of sourcing a statement to Professional Jeweller.

 

 

Authors

*

Related posts

Top