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Nobel Prize Medals Are Made of Gold. But From Where?

The annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony was held last Wednesday in Oslo’s city hall. This year’s recipients are two children’s rights activists: Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi from India. With royalty and dignitaries looking on, the Peace Prize winners each received a check, a diploma, and a medal made of gold.

1933 Peace Prize Medal Wikimedia Commons


Yousafzai and Satyarthi could not be more deserving. Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate in history at age 17, has earned recognition for fighting for the right of girls to attend school. In 2012, a Taliban gunman shot her after she boarded a school bus, sparking an outpouring of international support. Satyarthi, 60, is a leader in the global campaign against child labor. His work has helped rescue tens of thousands of children from exploitation and slavery.


One of our goals at Brilliant Earth is to help get children out of diamond and gold mines and into schools. So we’re enthusiastic about the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s selections this year. If we had one quibble, it’s with what the Committee says—or doesn’t say—on its web site describing the Peace Prize medal. We think that the Committee should answer on its web site the same question that responsible jewelers now answer: where is your gold from?


Jewelry retailers are increasingly careful about the origins of their gold for two main reasons. The first is the link between gold and armed conflict.  Since 1998, a war in eastern Congo fueled by gold mining has claimed more than 5 million lives. The contribution of gold to the conflict is so great that a U.S. law now requires some companies to disclose whether the gold in their products could have contributed to the war.


The other reason is that gold mining is plagued by serious labor and environmental abuses. Industrial gold mining generates 20 tons of toxic waste for every gold ring. Artisanal gold mining, the kind done by small-scale producers, is the leading cause of global mercury pollution, and it relies heavily on child labor. Globally an estimated 600,000 children mine for gold in dangerous, slave-like conditions.


At Brilliant Earth, we explain on our web site that we use recycled gold in our jewelry and that we also offer Fairmined gold and vintage jewelry collections. If the Norwegian Nobel Committee were a retailer, it would have a responsibility to say where its gold comes from. But since it is a committee that awards an iconic symbol of world peace, we think it has a special responsibility—and an opportunity—to set a good example: to investigate its supply chain, choose a responsible gold supplier, and make it easy for the public to locate information about the gold in the Peace Prize.


The Committee’s web site, however, doesn’t put that information at the public’s fingertips. The page on the Peace Prize medal does explain that the medal is made of 18 carat gold and weighs 196 grams. It describes the imagery on the medal, identifies the designer, and notes the Latin inscription on the back: “Pro pace et fraternitae gentium” meaning “For peace and fraternity among peoples.” But the page doesn’t say anything about the origin of the gold.


Another page at Nobelprize.org discusses the history of the various Nobel Prize medals. It explains that for more than a century, the medals were made by the Royal Mint in Sweden. (Presumably the Royal Mint also supplied the gold). It adds that the medals are currently made by Svenska Medalj, a Swedish company. But again, there’s no information about the origin of the gold. A look at the English version of the Svenska Medalj web page doesn’t turn up much information either. Likewise, a recent radio broadcast about Svenska Medalj’s production of the medals doesn’t mention anything about gold sourcing. Although it’s possible that origin of the gold in Nobel Prize medals has been publicly disclosed, that information is too hard to find.


The Norwegian Nobel Committee obviously cares a great deal about promoting world peace. And our guess would be that the gold in the Peace Prize medal doesn’t come from Congo and that it isn’t a product of child labor. So it seems like an oversight for the Committee not to make the same disclosures being made by responsible jewelers. Those disclosures would at least reassure the public that the medals are a fitting symbol of the accomplishments and values of Peace Prize laureates.


More importantly, the Committee has an incredible opportunity to raise awareness about the human and environmental costs of gold mining by making its medals out of the most responsible gold sources out there—and being very public about that choice. A decision to use only recycled gold, Fairmined gold, or conflict free gold from Congo in Nobel Peace Prize medals (and in other Nobel medals too) could give a critical boost to efforts to build responsible gold supply chains. We’ve previously made the same case with respect to Olympic medals.


In his powerful speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Satyarthi stood at a podium with an oversize replica of the Peace Prize medal attached to the front. He called upon “governments, intergovernmental agencies, businesses, faith leaders, the civil society, and each one of us, to put an end to all forms of violence against children.” He’s right. All segments of society should do their part. And we think that the Norwegian Nobel Committee could contribute in a very significant way by making an enthusiastic public commitment to responsibly sourced gold.


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