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Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The destructive public health, human rights and environmental consequences of symbols of love Martin Donohoe.

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Presentation on theme: "Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The destructive public health, human rights and environmental consequences of symbols of love Martin Donohoe."— Presentation transcript:

1 Flowers, Diamonds, and Gold: The destructive public health, human rights and environmental consequences of symbols of love Martin Donohoe

2 Say it with flowers

3 The Floriculture Industry $30 billion cut flower industry Major producers: Holland, Columbia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, India, Mexico, China, Malaysia – Only 1/3 of cut flowers sold in U.S. are domestic - most from CA Worlds largest producer: Dole Fresh Flowers

4 The Floriculture Industry 190,000 workers in developing countries Ecuador and Columbia account for ½ of flowers sold in U.S. Most profit flows to large, multinational corporations, headquartered outside producing countries – Small amount reinvested locally

5 Floriculture and Women Predominantly female workforce – Low wages – No benefits – Short contract cycles – Child labor, dismissal for pregnancy, unpaid overtime common

6 Floriculture and Labor Labor organizers harassed, workers fired for trying to organize unions Third party contractors shuffle workers from plantation to plantation, avoiding payment of social security and inhibiting union organizing

7 Floriculture and the Environment Floriculture displaces crops grown for local food consumption – Contributes to malnutrition and increased local food costs Requires large quantities of irrigation water – 120 liters/dozen roses – Contributes to drop in water tables

8 Floriculture: Toxic Exposures Flowers = most pesticide-intensive crop – Greenhouses increase ambient levels of pesticides – 1/5 of pesticides banned or untested in U.S. – Carcinogens, persistent organic pollutants/endocrine disruptors

9 Floriculture: Toxic Exposures Flowers carry up to 50X the amount of pesticides allowed on foods USDA inspects for pests, but not pesticides



12 Floriculture: Health Effects Over 50% of workers have symptoms of organophosphate pesticide exposure Other common health problems: – Allergic reactions, heat stroke, pneumonitis, RSI, cellulitis, UTIs, neuropathies, mental health problems, cancers, reproductive problems (low sperm counts, spontaneous abortions, fetal anomalies, etc.)

13 Floriculture: Health Effects Labeling, handling, and storage problems rampant Protective gear often lacking, not working Reuse of pesticide-saturated greenhouse plastic for domestic purposes not uncommon Workers wash / bathe children in same sink

14 Floriculture: Health Effects Local physicians poorly-trained, lack resources to manage pesticide-related health problems Many providers employed by floriculture company – Conflict of interest


16 Diamonds Symbols of wealth, power, love, and magical powers Created from carbon early in the earths history under extreme temperature and pressure Discovered in India around 800 B.C. Commercial mining began in 1866 in South Africa

17 World Diamond Mine Production (1995-2011)

18 Diamond Production Antwerp, Tel Aviv, New York and Mumbai (Bombay) major trading centers Most cutting done in Surat (India), Tel Aviv, Antwerp, Mumbai, New York and Thailand Major retail markets U.S. and Japan Annual retail sales = $71 billion (2011)

19 Kimberley Mine, SA Yielded 3 tons of diamonds, Closed 1914

20 Mirny Diamond Mine, Siberia Largest open diamond mine in the world

21 The Diamond Engagement Ring Diamond engagement ring introduced in 1477 (Archduke Ferdinand Mary of Burgundy) De Beers Mining Company – Founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1888 – Responsible for 40%-45% of worldwide diamond production and sales

22 Cecil Rhodes (Rhodesia, Rhodes Scholarship, DeBeers Mining Company) We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labour that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories.

23 Diamond Rings 1939: DeBeers hires N.W. Ayer and Company to make diamonds a psychological necessity…the larger the diamond, the greater the expression of love. By 1942, 80% of engagements in U.S. consecrated with diamond rings (still true today)

24 Diamond Rings 1947: A diamond is forever slogan born – Jewelers instructed to tell (pressure?) men - who buy 90% of all diamonds – to spend at least 2 months salary on the ring

25 Diamond Rings 1999: Advertising Age magazine declares A Diamond is Forever slogan the most effective of the 20 th Century – Recognized by 90% of Americans 1999: De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer – Diamonds are intrinsically worthless, except for the deep psychological need they fill

26 Diamonds: Profits and Losses 144 million carats rough diamonds mined for jewelry per year – Worth approximately U.S.$15 billion – 1 carat diamond retails for $4,000- $7,500 in the U.S. Cost less than $2 billion to extract Ultimately sell for over $71 billion

27 Diamonds: Profits and Losses Workers desperately poor but hoping to strike it rich in casino economy – 1 million in Africa – Work under dangerous, unhealthy conditions for pittance Diamonds may be embedded in asbestos Workers suffer from cancer, leukemia, silicosis

28 Diamonds: Profits and Losses Middlemen, diamond dealers and exporters earn the lions share of profits – Most foreign nationals – Very little profit re-invested in local communities

29 Diamonds: Human Rights Abuses, Conflict and Terrorism Mine owners violate indigenous peoples rights via destruction of traditional homelands and forced resettlement Mining hastens environmental degradation of ecosystems already under severe stress

30 Diamonds: Human Rights Abuses, Conflict and Terrorism Diamonds have been used by rebel armies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Liberia, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone to pay for weapons used to fight brutal civil wars – 3.8 million deaths – Child soldiers – Forced labor – Sex slavery, HIV – Terrorize local populations


32 Diamonds: Human Rights Abuses, Conflict and Terrorism Al Qaeda and Hizbollah have used diamond monies to: – Fund terror cells – Hide money targeted by financial institutions – Launder profits from criminal activity – Convert cash into a commodity that is easily transportable and holds its value

33 Diamonds: Human Rights Abuses, Conflict and Terrorism Smuggled and illicit conflict diamonds may amount to as much as 10-15% of diamond jewelry sold worldwide – U.S. State Dept. 20% – Global Witness



36 Gold Dominant role throughout history in the growth of empires and the evolution of the worlds financial institutions

37 Uses of Gold 80-90% of gold mined today turned into jewelry 10-20% used by industry Used by Catherine de Medici as poison and by physicians to treat rheumatoid arthritis

38 History of Gold 4000 B.C.: gold first fashioned into decorative objects By 1500 B.C.: the standard medium of exchange for international trade Mid-1800s: Gold Rushes in California and South Africa

39 Gold Production Top producers: China, Australia, United States, Russia, South Africa, Peru 2500 tons mined each year Valued at $21 billion Typical piece of gold jewelry sells for at least 4 times the value of the gold itself


41 The Wedding Ring Formulated from a variety of minerals throughout history As with diamonds, aggressive marketing has played a significant role in popularizing the gold wedding band

42 Gold Mining: The Myth

43 Gold Mining: The Reality






49 Gold Mining Artisanal (15 million people, including 3 million women and children) Corporate (few major corporations)

50 Mining: The Worlds Deadliest Industry Tens of thousands killed mining gold and other minerals over the last century 40 killed per day presently

51 Mining: The Worlds Deadliest Industry Local communities suffer environmental damage, pollution, dislocations STDs rampant, spread by miners to wives and children

52 The Resource Curse Dependence upon gold mining slows/reverses economic growth, increases poverty, and encourages governmental corruption

53 The Resource Curse ½ of gold produced worldwide between 1995 and 2015 has or will come from indigenous peoples lands Rural and indigenous peoples evicted without prior consultation, meaningful compensation, or the offer of equivalent lands elsewhere

54 The Resource Curse Benefits go to corrupt central governments and overseas corporations Little returned to local communities – Casino economy

55 Environmental Destruction ¾ of active gold mining and exploration sites overlap with regions of high conservation value, such as National Parks and World Heritage Sites

56 Gold Mining Gold = Cyanide + Mercury At least 18 tons of mine waste created to obtain the gold for a single 3 oz., 18k ring Gold leached from ore using cyanide

57 Gold Mining Gold = Cyanide + Mercury Mercury used to capture gold particles as an amalgam – Mercury converted to methylmercury in environment Significant neurotoxin Minamata Disease 30% of global mercury pollution due to gold mining (major source = coal-fired power plants)

58 Minamata Disease W Eugene Smith

59 Gold Mining: Environmental Damage Contaminated groundwater often sits in large toxic lakes held in place by tenuous dams Release of cyanide and mercury into local waterways kills fish, harms fish-eating animals, and poisons drinking water

60 Gold Mining: Environmental Damage Omai gold mine in Guyana (one of the largest open-pit mines in the world): – Tailings dam failed in 1995 – 3 billion cubic liters of cyanide-laden tailings renders downstream 32 miles of Omai River, home to 23,000 people, an environmental disaster zone

61 Gold Mining: Environmental Damage Baia Mare gold mine in Romania – Tailings dam broke in 2000 – 100,000 metric tons of toxic wastwater spilled – Fish killed, other animals harmed, drinking water of 2.5 million people in Danube River watershed Coastal dumping of gold mine waste elsewhere damages estuaries and coral reefs

62 Gold: Other Health and Environmental Harms Mercury pollution contributes to the spread of malaria Gold smelting uses large amounts of energy and releases SO 2, nitrogen dioxide, and other components of acid rain

63 Gold: Other Health and Environmental Harms Release of lead into soil and air causes lead poisoning – Epidemic of lead poisoning in Nigeria Silica exposure causes silicosis – Increases risk of TB

64 Gold: Other Health and Environmental Harms Water tables decline due to pumping of enormous quantity of water to release gold from ore Toxic pollution from gold mines affects 100 million people worldwide Living near a gold mine costs 12.7 DALY loss (i.e., productive lifespan cut by 12.7 yrs)

65 Gold Mining Harms Women By displacing agriculture (where women play a major role), removes women from labor force Concentrates economic power in hands of men – Diminishes womens financial resources and educational, political, and legal opportunities

66 Gold Mining Harms Women Mining employs a few women in low- level, clerical positions, where they face severe discrimination, sexual harassment, and firing for pregnancy Women have to walk further to collect water Dowry-associated violence, esp. in India Utilization of child labor

67 Gold Mining: Human Rights Abuses Grassberg mine (worlds largest, owned by U.S.- based Freeport-McMoRan) – On land seized from Amunge and Komoro peoples – Dumps tons of cyanide-laced waste into local rivers each day – Operators implicated in forced evictions, murders, rape, torture, extra-judicial killings, and arbitrary detentions – Abetted by Indonesian military, which it has paid millions of dollars

68 Gold Mining: Terrorism Echo Bay Mines Limited purportedly paid off Abu Sayef (affiliated with Al Qaeda) in exchange for protection of its Philippines- based gold mine

69 Gold: Markets vs. Morals U.S. government has 8,134 tons of gold secured in vaults (worth approximately $122 billion) Federal Reserve and other major central banks have agreed to severely restrict sales from their reserves, offering, in effect, a price support to gold

70 Gold: Markets vs. Morals Currently 3 times more gold sits in bank vaults, in jewelry boxes, and with private investors than is identified in underground reserves – Enough gold to meet current consumer demand for 17 years Subsidies make it cheaper to extract new gold than to recycle existing gold

71 Gold: Markets vs. Morals Mining industry maintains strong ties with governments to maintain status quo – $32 million spent on lobbying in 2011 (largest recipient = Mitt Romney)

72 Gold: Markets vs. Morals Gold mining supported by World Bank and its profit-making arm, the International Finance Corporation Gold industry blocking International Monetary Fund- and World Bank- sponsored debt-forgiveness package

73 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions Flowers: – Grow your own – Potted plant – Purchase locally- or internationally- produced, organically-grown, labor- friendly bouquets

74 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions Flowers: – Consumer education – Pressure on retailers – Boycotts – Food First Information Action Networks Voluntary International Code of Conduct

75 Alternatives and Solutions Flowers: – Veriflora Certification System: Organic production with phaseout of pesticides Water conservation Safe waste management Mitigation of previous environmental damage Fair labor practices / fair wages / overtime pay / right to organize Unannounced audits ensure compliance

76 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions Diamonds: – Consider alternatives to traditional engagement ring Cubic zirconium Synthetic/cultured diamonds LifeGems (diamonds created from carbon captured during cremation of human and animal remains!) No ring

77 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions Diamonds: – Purchase only verifiable conflict-free diamonds cut, color, clarity, and conflict – Query jewelers, consumer education, boycotts, protests, shareholder activism – Kimberly Process Certification Scheme

78 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions Gold: – Consumer pressure, boycotts, shareholder resolutions – Consider recycled/vintage gold, eco-friendly gold, alternatives to traditional wedding ring/class ring – Develop biological and chemical treatments to decrease/destroy cyanide, mercury, and other mining contaminants, and alternatives to mercury-based smelting

79 Minamata Convention International agreement among over 140 countries (including U.S.) to be signed October, 2013 – Places controls and restrictions on mercury use E.g., Medical equipment (thermometers), energy-saving light bulbs, mining, cement and coal-fired power plants – Includes education and public health strategies to identify and treat victims of mercury toxicity

80 Safe Diamonds (?)

81 Safe Gold

82 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions Consider alternative tokens of affection – Homemade gifts – Donations to charities – Eco-jewelry made from recycled materials by indigenous peoples Profits returned to local communities, providing wide-ranging social and economic benefit

83 Conclusions Cut flowers, diamonds, and gold as symbols of love are cultural constructs perpetuated in part by the persuasive marketing efforts of multinational corporations Production involves significant damage to local communities and the environment and harms men, women and children

84 Conclusions Production supports human rights abuses, armed conflict, and even terrorism Symbols of love should not be constant reminders of death and destruction – Consider alternative symbols of love – Work for social justice and change

85 Paper/References Donohoe MT. Flowers, diamonds, and gold: The destructive human rights and environmental consequences of symbols of love. Human Rights Quarterly 2008;30:164-82. Available at content/uploads/2008/02/symbols-of-love- hrq-pdf.pdf content/uploads/2008/02/symbols-of-love- hrq-pdf.pdf

86 Contact Information

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