Target Sells Gold Tarnished By Child and Forced Labor

by Tim Newman December 07, 2010

This holiday shopping season, jewelry companies are releasing their most heart-warming commercials encouraging consumers to surprise their loved ones with bands and chains of gold. However, the global gold industry is tarnished by severe labor rights abuses in many places, including forced labor and child labor. And Target is leading the industry in sales of dirty gold.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor identifies 17 countries from Africa to Asia to Latin America whose gold exports may be tainted by serious labor abuses in gold mines. In the Philippines, children as young as ten work long hours for almost no pay at small-scale gold mines. Conditions are often extremely dangerous, and children carry heavy loads, labor in unsafe underground mines or sift through gold with their bare hands, exposing themselves to mercury poisoning. Labor advocates are concerned that a “rising number of formal employers employ children to cut costs during the financial crisis.”

Similarly, media reports in Vietnam recently exposed how recruiters lure workers to gold mines and keep them in forced labor conditions. For example, a 15-year old boy named Dinh Van Diet was discovered in a forest after he ran away from a mine where he worked for two months. After enduring backbreaking conditions, Diet had requested to either be transferred to a different job or paid his wages and released from the mine, but instead he was beaten by his boss. Diet managed to run away, but was lost in the woods for over a month with severe injuries before he was found.

A recent audio slideshow from the Guardian in the U.K. explores the difficult conditions facing women workers in the gold mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who labor as “human mules.” The effect of carrying these heavy loads has a number of health consequences on these workers, including miscarriages. Human Rights Watch, Free the Slaves and other organizations have documented how children, prisoners and adult workers are often forced by militias to mine gold in the DRC as part of the ongoing conflict, fueled in part by the sale of minerals. And a report from Anti-Slavery International, exposed how thousands of children labor in gold mines in Peru. Starting as young as five years old, children often must help their parents gather and clean rocks. As they get older, children are involved in a range of hazardous activities including carrying heavy loads, digging in pits and dealing directly with mercury.

Clearly, this luxury gift comes at a significant price for workers around the world who mine gold. The No Dirty Gold campaign has worked to push corporations profiting from the sale of gold to take responsibility for the labor rights, as well as other human rights and environmental abuses, that persist in this industry. The campaign has managed to get almost 80 of the world’s largest jewelry retailers to embrace a set of Golden Rules that include respecting worker rights and international labor rights and fully disclosing information about the social impact of gold mining. But Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers and a huge retailer of gold products, has lagged behind in embracing responsible standards for gold suppliers.

No company should be allowed to profit of the exploitation of children, workers and communities around the world. Take action now to tell Target to join the rest of the industry in implementing the Golden Rules.

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