The ethics of jewellery-making: small steps & determination

July 20, 2017

Choosing carefully how to spend your money can have a  positive impact on the world. As a consumer, your money is your voice – What will you say with it?

In the case of jewellery, you might choose to buy from an independent designer-maker instead of a high street store. Or perhaps it’s not about the scale of the business, but about how transparent they are about their manufacturing processes and materials.

In my home life, I’m already giving a lot of thought to where I buy food, clothes and other products – choosing Fair Trade and avoiding animal cruelty wherever possible. When it comes to working practices and sourcing materials for my business, there is so much more I could do.

Fairlux Conference: ethical jewellery inspiration

Earlier this year I attended the Fairlux conference at the AnchorCert Gem Lab in Birmingham.

We heard fascinating talks on Fair trade jewellery and ways to source ethical materials, as well as the wider implications for the environment and human rights. As a small independent business, making this change is a challenging process. It’s been inspiring to connect with innovative industry players who have already made this commitment in their own business.

Within my practice, there are four key materials to look at. Here is what I have learnt so far, and the steps I’m taking towards making a change:

Gold

Groundbreaking progress with Fairtrade and Fairmined

The standards set by the Fairmined and Fairtrade certifications are transforming the gold mining industry, and the lives of those who depend on it. 
With both labels you can expect a fair price to be paid to miners for their work, thus impacting positively on their communities. With the Fairmined label, the mining organisations also receive a premium  payment for eco-friendly practices.
Fairmined and Fairtrade used to work together, but they are now two distinct labels. Each label has a slightly different focus as to what they are trying to achieve, but essentially both offer solid ethical guarantees to consumers. If you’re interested in finding out more, here is an interesting post with more details.

I hope to be a fully-signed up member of Fairtrade’s independent goldsmith scheme soon.

Silver

Fair trade Silver is not currently available, as it is mostly mined from large-scale operations. I have found a supplier for small quantities of Fairmined silver, and I’ll soon be making my first piece using this beautiful material.

Coloured Gems

This is where the issues of traceability and fair working conditions get very complicated. There is no Fairtrade standard or third-party accreditation for coloured gems yet. I have begun to buy my stones much closer to source, but I hope to find more sources with even greater transparency. I’ll also be on the look out for ethical progress in the mainstream coloured gem industry. Working with new suppliers will no doubt bring exciting new design inspiration too!

Diamonds

I’m currently finding out more about the best options. It’s become clear that the Kimberley process is not so effective – guaranteeing only that the diamonds are not tampered with while in transit, but not guaranteeing that they’re not funding conflict in the African continent. Diamonds sourced in Canada are currently the only fully traceable source, but speakers at the conference highlighted that this takes away business from developing countries, which just avoids the problem altogether.

Little steps and determination

I came away feeling excited to make the changes in my jewellery business, but I’m also aware that the issues involved are thorny, and making the change will take time. I’ll use the blog as a journal of my progress, sharing with honesty the steps I’m taking to make my business more ethical. Please send me your tips and comments, and watch this space!

Find out more about fair trade gold, and fairmined gold and silver. Read Sue Phillips’s informative post on the excellent ‘Where stuff comes from’ blog.

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