The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD), the official aid agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, is today (11 May 2006) launching a report and campaign to highlight the injustice and exploitation that underlies the international gold trade.
The report, Unearth Justice: Counting the cost of gold, which is available online, reveals that three-quarters of gold purchased in countries like the UK comes from the developing world; that for every gold ring made, there are 18 tonnes of waste; and that between 1995 and 2015, roughly half the worldís gold will have come from indigenous peopleís lands ñ much of it without their "free, prior and informed consent".
CAFOD says that gold mining is one of the world's dirtiest industries and that for many developing countries, its discovery has led to little but poverty and hardship. For the rich, the commodity is a symbol of wealth and power ñ it is used in everything from jewellery to food, aircraft engines to computers, and fillings to mobile phones.
While mining generates revenue and creates jobs, the Christian agency explains, it can also cause lasting damage to communities and the environment. The gold extraction industry has been closely linked with conflict, corruption and social problems for those working in and living near mines ñ and some of these problems are exacerbated by the activities of foreign mining companies.
The Catholic Fund for Overseas Development says that its and its partners are working with communities living close to gold mines, to ensure that the earth and its resources ñ created by God and entrusted to us ñ are protected, respected and wisely used.
In the UK alone, the agency points out, nearly 20 million hallmarked gold articles were sold in 2005 ñ roughly equivalent to a third of the population buying a piece of gold jewellery.
Though it is impossible to trace this gold back to the country or community where it was mined there is plenty the public can do to challenge the injustice of the gold industry and trade, says CAFOD.
In particular, consumers of gold can put pressure on gold mining countries to respect poor communities and the environment, and on jewellery retailers to ensure that the gold they sell is ethically produced.
Alongside its partners in the developing world and the churches, CAFOD is lobbying governments and companies, calling for measures to stop gold undermining the poor.
CAFODís initiative on gold, which was also highlighted by BBC Radio 4ís flagship Today news programme this morning, is part of a broader campaign called Unearth Justice, which focuses on the mining, oil and gas drilling, known collectively as the "extractive industries"
It is a bitter paradox, says the agency, that developing countries are the richest in natural resources such as oil and precious metals, but are often those with the worst records on reducing poverty.
The Independent newspaper has today highlighted a disturbing case study from Central America  ñ showing what it calls ìa David-and-Goliath-style battle between Honduran villagers and an international conglomerate [showing] how the hunt for precious metal can threaten some of the world's most vulnerable people and their environment.î
Conferences to launch the CAFOD Unearth Justice campaign will be held in London on 13 May and Bury on 20 May 2006. More information is available here .