Jewellery is a beautiful, luxury purchase, it’s sparkly, glamorous, a symbol of status and often of love and a reminder of special people and occasions. The mining and extraction of metal and gems however is the murky side of the industry that jewellery lovers know little about.
Over the last 15 or so years there have been calls for the jewellery supply chain to clean up its act and become more transparent, one of the main proponents of change being Greg Valerio (link to his book below). It has taken some time, but things are changing and as jewellers we now have access to more ethical materials. I have been working over the last 12 months to source metal, diamonds and gemstones that are better than the “norm” (I have never used conflict diamonds or gemstones and all of my materials have come from reputable suppliers). It has not been the easiest of tasks and it’s not perfect – some things just aren’t available. I’ve spoken to many suppliers and I’ve found that for metal it’s relatively straight forward – Fairmined (of which I am now very pleased to be a licensee) or Fair Trade are both very positive – mining still goes on, but it supports communities that rely on it to make a living, whilst putting in place processes to support people and minimise environmental damage. Often the local population are pushed out by large mining companies (whether mining metal or gems). Recycled metal (which I’ve been using for a good while now) means no new mining, but doesn’t support communities and potentially, some of the metal may have originally contributed to environmental damage, human rights issues, war etc. As always, there are pros and cons to both.
A little information about Fairmined:
Fairmined is an assurance label that certifies gold from empowered responsible artisanal and small-scale mining organizations who meet world leading standards for responsible practices.
The issues in mining for gold and other precious minerals have been widely reported and discussed: • Fueling conflict, • child labor, • environmental destruction, • mercury use, • health and safety of workers, • gender inequality, • economic exploitation, • impact on communities
Artisanal and small -scale mining employs 90% of the workforce behind gold extraction and is responsible for 10% of global production. Approximately 10 million gold miners and their families are dependent on this economic activity worldwide. Artisanal and small -scale mining is largely a poverty driven activity. However, some of these mining operations see mining as the best way to strengthen their communities, and are looking to lead the way in responsible mining practices. With the right support and incentives small community mining organizations offer the greatest opportunity for positive social and environmental impact.
Fairmined transforms mining into an active force for good, ensuring organizational and social development and environmental protection.
Organizational development: rewards enterprise, a guaranteed minimum price and premium to invest in their operations, strengthened and empowered organization, legal mining operation, better trade relationships
Social development: no link to conflict situations, no child labour, creates safer and more stable jobs, promotes gender equality, promotes wellbeing in the community,
Environmental protection: supports small-scale mining , ensures safe handling, reducing the use of chemicals , protects water supplies, ensures a positive environmental legacy
For more information about the mines, miners and how fairmined is gold to be proud of, go to www.fairmined.org
As mentioned above, alongside Fairmined gold and silver, I offer 100% recycled silver, gold, palladium and platinum. Unless a piece is made of Fairmined metal, it will always be 100% recycled *. In general, all gold in circulation today will be partly recycled – old coins and jewellery, industrial waste, gold fillings etc. 100% recycled means that no new mining will have taken place in order to make that piece of jewellery, it can give no guarantee as to how the metal was first mined or where it came from.
The sourcing of diamonds in particular and gemstones, I have found to be a bit trickier. Again, I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the last 12 months or so. Stones are labelled “ethical” as they meet the standards of the Kimberly process. Have you watched the film Blood Diamond? The Kimberly process was developed to make sure the production and sale proceeds from diamonds did not support civil wars in Africa and it would be unusual to find a jeweller these days who didn’t tell you their diamonds were conflict free. However many within the industry are saying that the Kimberley Process does not go far enough and that blood diamonds still manage to enter the market. I’ve found, that just because a diamond is conflict free, it doesn’t mean that those diamonds haven’t been cut and polished in a sweat shop of a factory, perhaps using child labour. Some ethical sellers can guarantee conditions in the factories, but they still can’t tell you where the gems came from or conditions in the specific mine and without that information, how can you know that there aren’t human rights violations, that miners are being properly paid, that children aren’t working in the mines or that the gems aren’t funding violence?
With this in mind, I’ve chosen to use diamonds sourced from De Beers mines in Canada, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. The diamonds are guaranteed natural and untreated.
You can find out more about De Beers mines here: http://www.debeersgroup.com/en/explore-de-beers/mining.html
Canadian Diamonds larger than 0.3ct are individually laser inscribed with a unique serial number and can be tracked right back to their mine of origin. Canadian environmental protection laws require that a thorough environmental assessment be carried out before a diamond mine can be approved, that effective systems are in place to protect local wildlife, and that the land be restored once mining has ceased. Canadian miners are also protected by strict health and safety regulations, and Canadian employment laws preclude child labour and any form of sweatshop labour.
Unless you know where a diamond came from, you cannot know for certain that it was ethically produced. Canada is the only country in the world to operate a system to monitor and track diamonds from the mine.
When it comes to gemstones, I have begun working with a small number of suppliers, who are ethical (they pay fair wages, treat their staff properly, do not use child labour and operate in a safe and environmentally friendly way etc), are either fair trade and/or know the mine from which the stones came, can guarantee traceability, that gems did not fund wars/political unrest, no child labour, no human rights violations. One of these has mines in Sri Lanka, the other in Southern Tanzania. These gemstones are natural. For those of you who would like to avoid mining completely, lab created diamonds and gemstones are available.
My jewellery is also vegan and vegetarian friendly.
If you’d like more information, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
*All fairmined pieces will have the Fairmined mark. Some existing stock will not currently have fair trade gemstones, those that do will be clearly labelled as such. It is not currently possible to buy 100% recycled chain.
Fair Trade (USA) www.fairtradecertified.org
Fairtrade (UK) www.fairtrade.org.uk
Alliance for responsible mining http://www.responsiblemines.org/en/
Responsible Jewellery Council www.responsiblejewellerycouncil.com
You might like to read this book – Greg Valerio “Making Trouble – fighting for fair trade jewellery”.