Walmart greenwashing: Workers pay the price

Walmart greenwashing: Workers pay the price
Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

For a Spanish version of this story, click here.

A few blocks from the jewelry factory's entrance in La Paz, Bolivia, Julia and Maria look over their shoulders to see if the night guards are watching. The two young Aymara Indian women shiver in the cold night air and lower their heads as they speak.

"It's a horrible experience, but it's what I have to do to feed my kids," says Julia, a 20-something mother of two. "Supervisors yell at us constantly, and if we don't finish our work quickly enough, we are told: 'The doors are open for you to go.'"

The entrance to José and Mamani's former workplace. Inside, the workshops are barren except for some tables and chairs.
Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
The entrance to José and Mamani's former workplace. Inside, the workshops are barren except for some tables and chairs.
The entrance to Aurafin's factory has no sign indicating it's one of the largest factories in Bolivia.
Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
The entrance to Aurafin's factory has no sign indicating it's one of the largest factories in Bolivia.

Says Maria: "There isn't even soap or adequate masks to protect from the dust." Their list goes on — insufficient pay, strip searches upon exiting, discouragement from attending night school because it would interfere with work.

Barely a few moments have gone by and they are nervously shifting in place. After another over-the-shoulder glance, Julia's slightly widened eyes seem to say, We've got to go. Courage spent, they pull their jackets tighter against the chilly wind and walk off toward their homes in the impoverished neighboring city of El Alto.

The two women don't know it, but thousands of miles away, their daily labor is sold by South Florida-based jewelry manufacturer Aurafin under the guise of "responsible sourcing." (Names of current and former Aurafin factory workers have been changed to avoid retribution.) In 2008, Aurafin teamed up with Walmart, and the largest retailer on Earth sells this so-called responsibly sourced jewelry under a product line named Love, Earth. Aurafin and Walmart say the jewelry is made in conditions that favor workers and the environment, a claim contradicted by tales from current and former workers.

Love, Earth's gold comes from U.S. mines no more environmentally friendly than other mining operations, which critics say are responsible for widespread pollution. The precious metal's journey then goes to Bolivia, where Maria and Julia and thousands of other workers toil — many in conditions much worse than the two women's — for the benefit of the U.S. companies. While Love, Earth may shine like gold, that's only varnish. Underneath, its anatomy is greenwash: The product is no better for the environment — or the people who manufacture it — than a standard piece of jewelry.

Aurafin and its parent company did not respond to repeated requests for comment. After New Times questioned Aurafin's practices, a Walmart spokesman indicated that the company "immediately launched an investigation" into the La Paz factory.

"We take reports like this very seriously and we will take prompt remedial action if our investigations confirm any of the findings," spokesman Kory Lundberg wrote in an email on November 23. "We remain committed to sourcing merchandise that is produced responsibly by suppliers that adhere to Walmart's rigorous Standards for Suppliers code of conduct."

Since that initial email, Lundberg has been unable to provide any additional information on the investigation's findings or if any remedial action has been taken. Meanwhile, Walmart continues to sell the Love, Earth line. That means that Aurafin's factories in Bolivia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic still provide the labor for turning the precious metals into jewelry and that customers continue buying the pieces — believing they are helping workers like Julia and Maria.

It's meant to be a love letter — to you, from Mother Earth. Sparkling tree pendants, shimmering butterflies, intricate braided hoops; it's jewelry that wants you to feel good about your purchase.

That's a lofty goal: Gold and diamond jewelry are notorious for having some of the dirtiest production lines on the planet, with mines and factories alike blamed for lasting harm to people and the environment. Not this one, says Love, Earth's website, with its airy green cursive font and images that alternate between polished rings and Chia pet-like replicas of Love, Earth pendants sprouting with grass. Walmart, the site promises, "can catalyze positive change in the way jewelry is produced — from mining to refining, polishing and cutting, and through to manufacturing — by promoting responsible practices in all the business activities in our jewelry supply chain."

The idea originated in 2005, when then-Walmart CEO Lee Scott decided to make sustainability a core part of the retail giant's mission. Over the next few years, the company would craft a large-scale green strategy that came to include increased energy efficiency in stores, improved fuel efficiency in its trucking fleet, and reduced product packaging. Eco-attention was put toward supply chains too.

Though "greening" production lines was not a novel concept, nobody was doing it for jewelry. To determine the line's sourcing, Walmart spent almost three years in consultation with numerous nonprofits and industry experts. Dr. Assheton Stewart Carter was senior director of business policies and practices at Conservation International when Walmart established the line. The D.C.-based environmental organization was a founding partner for the Love, Earth line, though a spokeswoman told New Times that the organization is no longer part of the partnership. "At that time, no one had tried making a traceable jewelry line," says Carter. Since gold often gets melted together from various sources at some point in its refining process, it's not easy to identify its origin, Carter explains. Walmart's decision to identify sources for consumers "was a significant step forward for the industry," he says.

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52 comments
GK
GK

Thanks for this wonderful investigation. It's unconscionable that the workers making Love, Earth jewelry are being paid so little. As for the question of Wal-Mart’s gold, it’s important for jewelry buyers to know: the most eco-friendly way to make a new piece of gold jewelry is to use recycled gold. Jewelry made using dirty gold mining methods -- such as cyanide heap leaching -- just doesn’t qualify as eco-friendly.

Let's hope that this leads to changes in Wal-Mart's supply chain. When any jeweler claims to be selling ethical and eco-friendly jewelry, it’s important that their clams be true. Otherwise, consumers will be misled, and practices in the mining and jewelry industries won’t improve.- GK, www.brilliantearth.com

GK
GK

Thanks for this wonderful investigation. It's unconscionable that the workers making Love, Earth jewelry are being paid so little. As for the question of Wal-Mart’s gold, it’s important for jewelry buyers to know: the most eco-friendly way to make a new piece of gold jewelry is to use recycled gold. Jewelry made using dirty gold mining methods -- such as cyanide heap leaching -- just doesn’t qualify as eco-friendly.

Let's hope that this article leads to changes in Wal-Mart's supply chain. When any jeweler claims to be selling ethical and eco-friendly jewelry, it’s important that their clams be true. Otherwise, consumers will be misled, and practices in the mining and jewelry industries won’t improve.- GK, www.brilliantearth.com

hulk68
hulk68

i worked for walmart for nearly 10 years.and during that time,i can tell you from 1st hand EXPERIENCE and not from what she said or what he said or what they said.im someone who was in management in various departments and of various departments and walmart is indeed a nasty,filthy and evil company who will sell their mother and children for a profit and whos opendoor policy only results in retaliation and you being told to "take it like a man",i was told that and i declined that notion.and anyone who doesnt believe that,go get a job there and tell your story when you have had enough.and im sure walmart knew all about these peoples working conditions from the very start because companies dont just dump money into something without going to investigate it first.if thas the case,im going to get a contract with them soon and make some money too..lol

anjun37
anjun37

well what do you expect from a company whos goal is to sell cheap products, good thing i never shop there and if i do i must have no other choice but to since it is sometimes the only car place open at night.

Brickell Princess
Brickell Princess

Hmmmm....so these women have a job they do not like. Well, a lot of people have jobs they do not like and they quit and get better jobs. So why and how am I supposed to feel compassion for these self proclaimed victims of corporate greed? Did they not graduate from the medical school they attended? Or did they throw their law careers away to work in a factory? Oh, that's right! They made they choice to spread their legs wide open and start popping out children they could not afford to feed. But according to dirty hippies, that's my fault for being successful and always planning each and every step I take in life instead of throwing my ankles over my head for some papi chulo to come and make babies. Those chongas need to be taught about priorities!

dontchaknow
dontchaknow

Evidently, you haven't had a trip around the block in the REAL world. This article is about Walmart & their unscrupulous & unethical business practices.

Aaron
Aaron

All right, rich girl, we know you don't know what you're talking about.

anjun37
anjun37

well the problem wit that statement is that sometimes you have no choice because it is the only job in town travel the world and you will see how hard it is out there,

I know!
I know!

It's not about Wal-Mart! it's about the companies they hire for their merchandise. They need to investigate these people! I think this article was more about The Richline Group and their illegal practices.

Elanadarkley
Elanadarkley

My freakin bike was stolen while I was inside. I always tell myself never again!

Guest
Guest

I haven't shopped at a Wal-mart in at least 6 months and plan to never step foot in one the rest of my life. Wal-Mart is the cancer of America and it is spreading around the world.

Yellowjacket
Yellowjacket

As always the evilness of white man is apparent

I know!
I know!

I worked for AURAFIN and this is HALF of their dirt... if you only new...

I know!
I know!

It's funny how they mention the work environment in Boliva. They do the same in their factory in Tamarac Florida.

citizen477
citizen477

Reasonably priced? Really? Do you understand the difference between the price of something and the cost of something? Clearly, you don't. The price that you pay for products from Walmart and Target and all those "boxmarts" are not reasonably priced. If the proper costs were factored into what you pay, that would be reasonable. That is the problem with many in the West. We expect to pay little or nothing for everything, even when it is UNreasonable. It is not sustainable.

citizen477
citizen477

The thing is, though. Corporations don't have a right to exist. The governments of these countries need to stop finding the lazy way to bring jobs to their economies, i.e.: allowing these corporations to force their way in and exploit their people. Enough is enough.

Nybreeze01
Nybreeze01

stfu please..brown people are a cancer ...

VOLCAN
VOLCAN

Many may what you just said, but they are humans, snd they are being sploited by cancer causing agents(Corporations) that may soon start to give orders in the USA!!.

DNA
DNA

A primary function of jewelry is to mark social class distinctions- to separate and mark the "elite" as superior to others. The elite rule, others are expected to obey. It is not surprising that the jewelry industry doesn't give a damn about workers health or conditions as long as they can prevent revolt by the workers. The same can be said of the ruling/political class in general. If one wants to end the injustice to workers in jewelry manufacturing stop buying and wearing the stuff. Jewelry is a marker of those seeking to achieve social supremacy and those (unconsciously or unconsciously) trying to be accepted in such groups.

Rolandoe
Rolandoe

this is a real dumb comment.If you are talking Bulgari you are right, but jewelery goes far beyond that and there's a lot of examples within original population's craftsmanship

phantom
phantom

No wonder this country is taking a crap and the rest of the WORLD has lost respect for it. We have so many jerks and assh**** here. And Walmarts does not give a crap about the environment. Its all about the money. And soon it will all catch up to them and the rest of this insensitive, money hungry, slave-driving fools.

linaimai
linaimai

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Bikini (Ed hardy,polo) $18

Guest
Guest

blah blah blah...just another paycheck hungry "journalist" writing crap!!

phantom
phantom

Why is the journalist writing crap? You probably one of these idiots who love to become rich on other peoples hard work. I bet you probably work for some ritzy slave-driving company. A**HOL*. I would love to see Walmarts go freaking under.

Kobyn
Kobyn

Mr. Buffett is making millions, having TV and radio interviews every day, being the one to follow for his capitalism voracity and other people worldwide are being treated as animals. That's the human being side that I hate the most.

Kwan Chi
Kwan Chi

I'm never to defend WM but....

The point of the WM Love, Earth is responsible mining and traceability in gold jewelry.

In reality - WM tried to actually do something good, and avoid the "dirty gold" because gold is minded from who knows where, and there are horror stories from Africa just like the "Blood Diamond", in which they developed the Kimberly Diamond act, which is to help try and prevent abuse / slave labor and keep to regulations in the diamond industry.

At least this was a step in the RIGHT direction of traceable material and having Green Watchdogs look over and APPROVE of the process.

The point I think this guy is trying to make is that it's a factory with underpaid workers - which has nothing to do with Love, Earth specifically - unless it was actually made by Walmart's factory. Unfortunately there maybe exploitations in most Third World countries - but they are also being given a job and some form of pay for themselves. They are not forced to work but they may not have the best choices either in working conditions.

At the end of the day, unfortunately,, consumers mainly don't care where there product came from or how it was made, or who made it. It's all about if they can afford it at retail and if it's not outsourced than odds are, it probably isn't affordable.

The writer of the article should ask himself "Where was my computer made, what materials were used and how was it processed, did the mainboard production process pollute the earth?" - before writing something on your computer.

I'll be looking for the next 2-4-1 domestic specials next time I'm on this site, or maybe when Mason Storm comes to Tootsies next time.

guest
guest

it's true that it IS a step in the right direction, however the line isn't just being marketed as "traceable" or "mine-to-market". it's being marketed as responsible, green, ethical. these are very different things. wal-mart is tapping into the buzz of "green" and using it to make people feel good about their purchases. you might be able to trace where the gold was mined, but that doesn't mean the mining was in any way responsible. cyanide in the water supply and complete environmental destruction isn't exactly green or responsible.

Lh7018x2
Lh7018x2

WELL, Americans better get use to the idea of being a slave too. The days of relaxed living are soon to end.

John S
John S

Its ridiculous to comment on a non story; that is , a PC non newsy story . Gold has been a slave metal sinceantiquity.

Dpacheco
Dpacheco

its a chame that people have to work like these woman but yet we the american people dont care how the product is done and at what cost and how many people have to die making it for conpannys like waltmart and they dont care cause when it comes down all the care for is the money selfish basters so waltmart should be boycott but that will never happen cause we dont care about anyone or anything.

Lee Bell
Lee Bell

When it comes right down to it, there are two choices. Provide a place of employment for peope at salaries sufficient to bring employees in the surrounding community, or don't. They may not like their jobs, or their pay, but it's a whole lot better than nothing.

Vanpeltquaker2
Vanpeltquaker2

Walmart investigating how their stuff is made in other parts of the world is like a buzzard looking after the dead.

Drake Mallard
Drake Mallard

If you don't like working for Walmart… here's and idea… DON'T WORK FOR WALMART

claudtte
claudtte

if anyone is out there read this carefully. Jesus is coming back soon, plz accept him as ur personal savior and he wants u 2 reconcile with ur enemies. Its not a joke believe n him n do the right things every possible ways. May the Lord on high pour his blessings upon anyone who read n believe n him.

Svfortuna
Svfortuna

It is left wing hatchet job pieces of journalism why I am finally cancelling my AOL subscription which dates back almost 20 yrs. I'm sure the article is endorsed by an American labor union. Walmart provides jobs where there none before-- if conditions were so bad and there were other jobs the local would go to them. We stole this country "fair and square" after killing the Indians, enslaving the blacks, child labor and exploitation of immigrants--- now we have suddenly become moral compass for the world? -

BR Sumbich
BR Sumbich

So, what harm has Walmart done? Created crappy jobs in an economy that had NONE?

A wise old friend of mine told me a long time ago, give someone a job and they will hate you for life. If conditions are so bad, imagine how bad they'd be without Walmart suppliers.

Tedbell
Tedbell

These people over at News Times are COMMIE PINKOS!! GOV. RICK SCOTT, SEN. RUBIO AND REP ALAN WEST WILL GET THESE BASTARDS!!!! TE HE...TE HE...

GOD BLESS 'MURICA!!!!!!

Fxdrider
Fxdrider

Profit drives corporate discission. Money drives corporate greed. Sam must be rolling in his grave with what has happened to his company and his beliefs.

BR Sumbich
BR Sumbich

the primary objective of any corporation is to generate profit. Walmart also CREATES many millions of jobs all over the world, and provides health insurance for millions of americans. And BTW, Sam is probably smiling at the lives he has touched. If you don't like the pay scale or conditions, find somewhere else to work.

Cross002
Cross002

Oh gee, it's all Wal-Mart's fault.

...and look at the so-called journalistic source, New Times, ultra-liberal, agenda driven, sophomoric, and rush-to-judgment.

Take it with a grain of salt.

To the people and the governments involved I say, get your heads out of your **ses, try to step out of the third-world and into at least the 20th century (we're in the 21st!), demonstrate to the rest of the civilized world that you can be more than third-world mental-midgets, and quit relying on your so-called - developing nation - status to win American contracts for cheap labor.

Protect your labor force!

susan
susan

My co worker is always mad at me for shopping in Wal Mart- I dare not share this story, but I will think twice about going there now

Alexx52
Alexx52

The question here is one of morality. Am I obligated to pay more for a product so that the people makeing that product can live better lives? Am I responsible for the lives of everyone in the entire world? Can I afford to overpay for everything so that people can live better lives? Should I pay more for products so that other can have better lives? Personally, I say no! I buy what is reasonably priced. I do not concern myself with the people making the products. If you care about these people, send them some money out of your own pocket. Do not force me to support them by paying more than the product is worth. Most liberals want others to pay extra for the world's ills.If you are a liberal give the unfortunate your money not mine.

LolaKnows
LolaKnows

Your mother must have been a real piece of work to have raised some idiot like you.

watersisland
watersisland

Wal-Mart....Schmall-Mart......This isn't about jewelery, this is about corporattions doing ANYTHING to make their bottom line bigger, no matter what the cost to the earth or human beings. Lie, deceive, and insulate themselves the reality of their actions by using subcontractors to do the filthiest and most inhumane of their work. AND THEN CALL THEMSELVES "GREEN".

EVERYONE has a responsibility to give thought to WHERE and HOW their purchases were obtained, particularly in today's corporate world of outsourcing and 'free trade'. "Corporations" primary design is to hide responsibility from individuals names.

Glenn the Jeweler
Glenn the Jeweler

This is so sad and has been going on for years in the jewelry industry. I know, I'm a jeweler and I sell only the finest lab diamonds made right here in the U.S. I'm also a member of Stop Blood Diamonds.org. If your looking for the finest Heart and Arrow Diamond simulants with no slave labor check out the link to my auctions on Ebay. No Reserve .99 cents auctions for promotions and I donate my proceeds for my pink diamonds to the Susan G. Komen, Find a cure. You can find the link to my auctions as well as Stop Blood Diamonds on my web, www.Diamonal.com Happy New Year all and lets not forget where all this so called bling comes from and the lives lost digging it up out of the ground, Glenn the Jeweler

doyourownresearch
doyourownresearch

Hey Glenn, save your proceeds from your pink diamonds, as there is no plan nor has there ever been a plan to find a cure, they're pocketing your proceeds & passing along maybe 2% for any research. (as with any non-profit, they pay NO taxes - bottom line, They're making more $ with their diabolical treatments.) WalMart doesn't care about where their merchandise originates either.

boogiemann1
boogiemann1

Glenn if I weren't so broke, you would be selling me some gold or diamonds right now. A business man with morals.......refreshing!

Glenn the Jeweler
Glenn the Jeweler

Hi Boogiemann1, thanks for your reply. Shoot me an e-mail and tell me what you'd like and i'll send you a few free samples, really, no charge, My e-mail is in my web www.diamonal.com thanks again and happy new year, Glenn

 
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