Contact: Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition, (202) 207-2820, firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, DC–The Child Labor Coalition (CLC) today joins nearly 30 NGOs and trade unions from around the world in calling on the jewelry industry to ensure responsible sourcing of precious metals and gems. One million children toil in mines, often extracting metals, including gold and silver, and gems like jade, emeralds, and diamonds. The work is extremely hazardous, putting children at risk of serious injury and death. Many child miners use toxic substances such as mercury that can cause severe damage to their developing neurological systems. Mining also causes profound ecological damage in many communities, polluting waterways and soil and endangering the health of communities.
“Consumers purchase nearly $300 billion in jewelry each year,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League (NCL) and co-chair of the CLC, whose 38 member organizations have worked to reduce child labor around the world for nearly three decades. “It’s time for jewelry companies to do more to provide consumers with jewelry that isn’t tainted with the scourges of child labor and forced labor. Existing mechanisms to clean up this supply chain have not gone far enough. It’s time for greater transparency. Jewelry companies must take responsibility for their supply chains.”
“The prevalence of child labor in the jewelry supply chains is a major concern,” said Reid Maki, NCL’s director of child labor advocacy and coordinator of the CLC. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, child labor is found in gold mining in 21 countries.
By Deborah Andrews, CLC Contributing Writer
In September 2015, Human Rights Watch released a report, “Phillipines: Children Risk Death to Dig and dive for Gold,” exposing the desperate working conditions of many of those involved in the Filipino gold mining industry. It is a worthy, informative and thought provoking read. In 2014, the Philippines produced 18 tons of gold. HRW researchers discovered that an estimated 70-80% came from small-scale mines, financed by local businessmen and operated without any basic machinery. These mines are worked by 200,000-300,000 people — many of them children aged 11-17, but some as young as 9 years old.
Most gold in the Philippines is underwater. To mine it, workers dive into narrow shafts often ten yards deep and only two feet wide. Using oxygen tubes to breathe, operated by a diesel compressor at the surface, workers can stay mining under water for 1-2 hours at a time. This is hazardous work. HRW researchers found that compressors frequently break due to mudslides; workers get extremely cold underwater; the diesel compressors can cause carbon monoxide poisoning; and a bacterium in the water causes a skin disease known as Romborombo that leaves skin irritated and infected.
Dry shafts can be 25 yards deep and have oxygen pumped into them by an air blower. Workers often work up to 24-hour shifts with only a short break above ground. There are frequent accidents. In 2014, two brothers suffocated, but the practice continues.
Disturbingly, HRW report authors discovered that mercury is widely used to process the gold. Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, causing muscle spasms, brain damage, permanent disability, and even death. It is particularly harmful to children’s developing nervous systems. This unrestricted mercury use is now also contaminating the fish population, a vital food source – further endangering the people.
- It is estimated that around 1 million children work in mines throughout the world.
- Mining is considered a form of hazardous labor unfit for children under any circumstances, including poverty. Mining can lead to serious injuries; health consequences and an unknown number of children lose their lives while mining every year.
- Around the world, children, ages 5-17, work in mines for as little as $2 per day.Because of the relatively small number of child miners (one million), compared to child laborers in agriculture (over 100 million), child mining has not received the attention it deserves. Additionally, mining often takes place in temporary, remote, small-scale locations making it difficult to regulate and monitor.
- Because of the relatively small number of child miners (one million), compared to child laborers in agriculture (over 100 million), child mining has not received the attention it deserves. Additionally, mining often takes place in temporary, remote, small-scale locations making it difficult to regulate and monitor.
- Children can be found working in mines in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and in parts of Europe.
- Work for child miners includes digging shafts, crushing rocks, and carrying ore in gold mines and digging, scraping and lifting in salt mines and carrying and crushing large stones in quarries.
- Child miners face many potential health consequences due to the nature of their work including: over-exertion , respiratory ailments, headaches, joint problems, hearing and vision loss.
- In addition to the risks faced by all child miners, children miners in gold also face potential side effects from working with Mercury.
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