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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 Overview Flowers Diamonds Gold Alternatives/Solutions

3 “Say it with flowers”



6 Flowers Long history of religious, folk, heraldic and national symbolism Gifts of love, friendship and filial devotion St. Valentine’s Day Mothers’ Day

7 The Floriculture Industry
$30 billion cut flower industry Major producers: Holland, Columbia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, India, Mexico, China, Malaysia World’s largest producer: Dole Fresh Flowers

8 The Floriculture Industry
Largest import markets: U.S. and Germany Only 1/3 of cut flowers sold in U.S. are domestic Most from CA

9 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

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

11 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

12 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

13 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

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



17 Floriculture: Health Effects
Over 50% of workers have symptoms of organophosphate pesticide exposure (cholinergic symptoms) 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.)

18 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

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



22 Diamonds Symbols of wealth, power, love, and magical powers
Created from carbon early in the earth’s history under extreme temperature and pressure Industrial uses: cutting, chemically inert, transmits many wavelengths of light, can be tweaked to hold an electric charge Discovered in India around 800 B.C. Commercial mining began in 1866 in South Africa

23 World Diamond Production (1995-2011)

24 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

25 The Diamond Market Annual retail sales = $50 billion (2010)
2008: Christie’s sells 36-carat diamond for $24 million World’s Largest Diamond: 40-carat Hope Diamond at Smithsonian

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

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




31 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

32 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.”

33 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.” Secret engagements promoted (men spend more than women) By 1942, 80% of engagements in U.S. consecrated with diamond rings (still true today) Diamonds first worn by stars to the Oscars in 1942

34 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

35 Diamond Rings DeBeers promotes surprise proposals
Men spend more than when women involved in selection process Later: Anniversary diamonds

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

37 Diamond Rings 2003: De Beers begins to market diamonds to single women
“Your left hand says ‘we,’ your right hand says ‘me.’”

38 Pet Jewelry: The Diamond Dog Collar

39 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 $50 billion

40 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

41 Diamonds: Profits and Losses
Middlemen, diamond dealers and exporters earn the lion’s share of profits Most foreign nationals Very little profit re-invested in local communities

42 Diamonds: Profits and Losses
2008: DeBeers settles several class action lawsuits over anti-trust violations, unfair competition, and consumer-protection laws related to monopolizing supplies, conspiring to fix/raise/control prices, and disseminating false and misleading advertising Over $300 million plus prohibitions/oversight DeBeers admits no wrongdoing

43 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

44 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 (e.g., RUF in Sierra Leone killed and mutilated thousands via amputations with machetes and axes in 1990s)


46 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

47 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




51 Gold Dominant role throughout history in the growth of empires and the evolution of the world’s financial institutions

52 Uses of Gold 80-90% of gold mined today turned into jewelry
10-20% used by industry Special properties: malleable, ductile, good thermal conductivity, durable, and resistance to corrosion Used by Catherine de Medici as poison and by physicians to treat rheumatoid arthritis

53 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

54 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


56 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

57 Where is the Gold? 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

58 How Gold is Used (In Tons)
2400 = jewelry 461 – industrial and dental 445 = retail investment 253 = exchange-traded funds

59 Gold Mining: The Myth

60 Gold Mining: The Reality








68 Mining: The World’s Deadliest Industry
12 million adults, 1 million children work as miners worldwide Tens of thousands killed mining gold and other minerals over the last century 40 killed per day presently

69 Mining: The World’s Deadliest Industry
500,000 abandoned mines in U.S. alone Estimated cleanup cost: $32-$72 billion Union-busting / human rights abuses help maintain cheap labor force

70 Mining: The World’s Deadliest Industry
Local communities suffer environmental damage, pollution, dislocations STDs rampant, spread by miners to wives and children FGC

71 The Resource Curse Gold Mining:
Artisanal (10-15 million people) Corporate (few major corporations) ½ of gold produced worldwide between 1995 and 2015 has or will come from indigenous peoples’ lands Dependence upon gold mining slows/reverses economic growth, increases poverty, and encourages governmental corruption

72 The Resource Curse Benefits go to corrupt central governments and overseas corporations Little returned to local communities Casino economy Rural and indigenous peoples evicted without prior consultation, meaningful compensation, or the offer of equivalent lands elsewhere

73 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

74 U.S. Gold Mining Mining Law of 1872 Generous government subsidies
Archaic law Mine purchase price between $2.50 and $5.00 per acre Generous government subsidies Cheap fuel Road building and other infrastructure Reclamation and cleanup

75 U.S. Gold Mining Local communities stuck with multi-million to multi-billion dollar environmental cleanup costs when mines declare bankruptcy or move on Native Americans’ rights violated

76 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 Cyanide paralyzes cellular respiration

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

78 Minimata Disease W Eugene Smith

79 Gold Mining Gold = Cyanide + Mercury
4000 tons used to purify gold during 19th-Century Northern California Gold Rush Fish in Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay still show elevated levels

80 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

81 Gold Mining: Environmental Damage
Gold and lead sometimes found together Mining releases lead into soil and air Epidemic of lead poisoning in Nigeria



84 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”

85 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

86 Gold, Mercury and Malaria
Mercury pollution contributes to the spread of malaria: Mercury may lower immunity to malaria Still pools of water serve as mosquito breeding grounds Migrant miners import new strains, infecting indigenous peoples E.g., Thousands of Yanomami Indians killed in Brazil in late 1960s / early 1970s

87 Gold: Other Health and Environmental Harms
Gold smelting uses large amounts of energy and releases SO2, nitrogen dioxide, and other components of acid rain Contributes to asthma, skin ailments

88 Gold: Other Health and Environmental Harms
Release of lead causes lead poisoning Silica exposure causes silicosis Increases risk of TB

89 Gold: Other Health and Environmental Harms
40% of Western U.S. watersheds affected by gold mining pollution More than 25 mines (some still active) on Superfund list Mine pollution ruins farmlands and strains local food resources

90 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)

91 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 women’s financial resources and educational, political, and legal opportunities

92 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

93 Gold Mining: Human Rights Abuses
Grassberg mine (world’s 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

94 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

95 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) Subsidies make it cheaper to extract new gold than to recycle existing gold

96 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

97 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 Radio talk show hosts hawking gold from Goldline International, others

98 Other Items With Similar Human Rights and Environmental Health Issues
Conflict minerals – for cellphones, electronics, missile guidance systems, etc. Chocolate

99 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Flowers: Grow your own Potted plant

100 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Flowers Purchase locally- or internationally-produced, organically-grown, labor-friendly bouquets Farmers’ markets, Whole Foods, other upscale markets (contributes to carbon offsets) 1-800-Flowers (some) Others

101 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Flowers: Consumer education Pressure on supermarkets, florists Boycotts → voluntary eco-labels in Europe NGOs developing industry standards Food First Information Action Network’s Flower Campaign → voluntary International Code of Conduct

102 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

103 Alternatives and Solutions
Flowers: Veriflora Certification System: Campaign focused on Supermarkets (29% of U.S. flower sales, market share increasing, 50 major companies) Less focus currently on wholesalers (1200 nationwide) and florists (30,000, 47% of market share) Society of American Florists yet to endorse Fair trade flowers

104 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Diamonds: Consider alternatives to traditional engagement ring Cubic zirconium Synthetic/cultured diamonds – over 75,000 lbs produced each year worldwide LifeGems (diamonds created from carbon captured during cremation of human and animal remains!) No ring

105 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 Diamond industry prefers self-regulation

106 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Diamonds: Kimberly Process Certification Scheme Requires rough controls to assure conflict-free diamonds Governments license miners Diamond traders utilize sealed, tamper-proof containers Integrated computer databases in importing and exporting countries catch discrepancies

107 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Diamonds: Kimberly Process Certification Scheme Importing countries enact strict customs regulations, backed by thorough inspections and harsh penalties Supported by diamond industry and UN General Assembly Involved countries (77) slow and often ineffective in enacting Scheme

108 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
U.S. Clean Diamond Act of 2003 Mandates participation in Kimberly Process Certification scheme Money from fines (up to $10,000 for civil and $50,000 for criminal penalties) and seized contraband earmarked for victims of armed conflict Implementation slow USA Patriot Act includes anti-money laundering measures

109 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Amnesty International/Global Witness survey ½ of companies failed to respond Only 38% of companies responding able to provide a meaningful account of their policies Helzberg Diamond Shops, Sterling (Signet), and Tiffany and Co. have most comprehensive policies


111 Safe Diamonds (?)

112 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Gold: No Dirty Gold Campaign: Halt to production and sale of gold produced at expense of communities, workers, and the environment Mining companies not to operate in areas of armed conflict Companies representing 22% of US jewelry market (accounting for $14.5 billion in sales) pledged Take the pledge at System similar to Kimberly Process

113 No Dirty Gold Campaign Companies pledged include: Zale Corporation
Signet Group (parent firm of Sterling and Kay jewelers) Tiffany and Company Helzberg Diamonds JC Penney

114 No Dirty Gold Campaign Companies pledged include: Cartier Piaget
Van Cleef and Arpels Fred Meyer Wal-Mart Jostens

115 No Dirty Gold Campaign Companies pledged include:
QVC Target Sears Pledging is just the first step

116 Alternatives and Solutions
International Labor Organization’s Convention #169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries Requires culturally-relevant consultation before appropriation of indigenous peoples’ lands and that indigenous peoples participate in benefits of mining Signed and ratified by 19 countries (but none of major gold mining countries)

117 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


119 Safe Gold

120 Symbols of Love: Alternatives and Solutions
Consider alternative tokens of affection Homemade gifts (cards, photo collages, videos, poems, meals, home improvement projects) Donations to charities Eco-jewelry made from recycled materials by indigenous peoples Profits returned to local communities, providing wide-ranging social and economic benefit

121 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

122 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

123 Paper/References Donohoe MT. Flowers, diamonds, and gold: The destructive human rights and environmental consequences of symbols of love. Human Rights Quarterly 2008;30: Available at

124 Contact Information

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