Dirty Gold

From Earth System Governance

Dirty Gold

How Activism Transformed the Jewelry Industry

By Michael John Bloomfield

The response from the jewelry industry to a campaign for ethically sourced gold as a case study in the power of business in global environmental politics.





The response from the jewelry industry to a campaign for ethically sourced gold as a case study in the power of business in global environmental politics.

Gold mining can be a dirty business. It creates immense amounts of toxic materials that are difficult to dispose of. Mines are often developed without community consent, and working conditions for miners can be poor. Income from gold has funded wars. And consumers buy wedding rings and gold chains not knowing about any of this. In Dirty Gold, Michael Bloomfield shows what happened when Earthworks, a small Washington-based NGO, launched a campaign for ethically sourced gold in the consumer jewelry market, targeting Tiffany and other major firms. The unfolding of the campaign and its effect on the jewelry industry offer a lesson in the growing influence of business in global environmental politics.

Earthworks planned a “shame” campaign, aimed at the companies' brands and reputations, betting that firms like Tiffany would not want to be associated with pollution, violence, and exploitation. As it happened, Tiffany contacted Earthworks before they could launch the campaign; the company was already looking for partners in finding ethically sourced gold.

Bloomfield examines the responses of three companies to “No Dirty Gold” activism: Tiffany, Wal-Mart, and Brilliant Earth, a small company selling ethical jewelry. He finds they offer a case study in how firms respond to activist pressure and what happens when businesses participate in such private governance schemes as the “Golden Rules” and the “Conflict-Free Gold Standard.” Taking a firm-level view, Bloomfield examines the different opportunities for and constraints on corporate political mobilization within the industry.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262035781 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 5 figures


$17.95 T ISBN: 9780262536004 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 5 figures


  • A fascinating, insightful study of how some retailers have addressed the challenge of making jewelry production more socially responsible. It makes a major contribution to both our theoretical and empirical understanding of the complex dynamics of business-society relations.

    David Vogel

    Solomon P. Lee Chair in Business Ethics, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

  • Dirty Gold provides a compelling explanation for different responses among jewelers to critiques from activists about the ecological consequences of the gold jewelry supply chain. Well-written and engaging, the book maps out a model that features agency and leadership as key contributors to firm-level engagement with private environmental governance schemes. The empirically rich case studies add much needed nuance to the literature on corporate sustainability.

    Jennifer Clapp

    Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Waterloo; coeditor of Corporate Power in Global Agrifood Governance

  • Why are some firms proactive in supporting private governance, while others resist? What are the implications of this answer for nurturing transnational business and environment coalitions capable of ameliorating critical environmental and social challenges? Targeting these questions toward the negative environmental and social aspects of 'dirty gold' production across the world, including 'conflict mining,' Bloomfield has produced a theoretical and empirical tour de force. As a result, his cases are not only illuminating for academics, but they are also fascinating, carefully articulated, and lively accounts of key individuals within firms in the sector, including the multi-national firm Walmart, a small 'shared value' firm 'Brilliant Earth', and specialty jewelers Tiffany. The book is must reading not only for students of private governance, firm behavior, and environmental targeting campaigns, but for anyone who cares about building meaningful environmental institutions in the 21st Century.

    Ben Cashore

    Professor, Environmental Governance & Political Science, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies; Director, Governance, Environment and Markets (GEM) Initiative