Ethical Jewellery At Its Finest
The phrase “ethical jewellery” covers a wide variety of different issues and sometimes it’s difficult to balance the various claims made by individual manufacturers. Greg Lovell from This Fair Earth explains some of the most important points to consider when trying to buy ethical jewellery.
Ethical is a broad term. To some it goes hand in hand with environmentally-friendly. To others, it’s much more to do with fair trade. However, perhaps to most people, it’s a general sense that something has been made with a concern for the environment, the people making the product, the resources being used in the item itself and the way it is marketed.
In the jewellery trade, there is no Fairtrade stamp in the way there is on coffee, bananas or sugar. It is currently impossible for small-scale jewellery producers to receive the independent accreditation of a group like the Fairtrade Foundation. So, in order to feel comfortable with the jewellery we buy, what are the things to look out for?
Metal mining is fundamentally a challenging process for the ecologically-minded. It is highly mechanised and involves the use of some potent chemicals. It often occurs in parts of the world where the environmental standards we may be subject to in the UK or EU are not applied. This can lead to the pollution of waterways and the destruction of vital habitats. However, there are some pointers to look for.
There are a number of individual groups putting pressure on various governments to ensure mining does not impact on other natural resources. For example, a campaign is in full swing to prevent the opening of a harmful gold mine in Bristol Bay in Alaska, which would threaten the region’s salmon population. The difficulty is in translating this into the gold you buy on the street or online. You may look out for certification from a group like the Responsible Jewellery Council, which aims to promote environmentally and socially aware jewellery production. However, caution should always be exercised. A representative from Cookson’s Gold, the UK’s largest provider of gold to the jewellery trade, told me it was almost impossible to be precise about the origins of gold used in jewellery manufacture in the UK. As with so many ethical issues, information is a powerful tool and questioning suppliers and jewellers can start to create a picture of the sustainability of the source of the precious metal in question.
Other jewellery does not impact the environment in the same way as precious metals. The Avoova project in South Africa, for example, uses discarded eggshells from the ostrich trade to make it’s beautiful, unique bangles(pictured). This is a great example of making stunning jewellery from what was considered until recently a waste product. Also, remember that materials such as ceramic beads can be hand painted and hand fired on a small scale and do not have the same impact as industrially-produced plastics.
Jewellery production need not be on an enormous scale in exploitative conditions. There are some talented and skilful artists producing jewellery in an environment where they are fairly paid, work under fair conditions and are not put under undue pressure from unrealistic deadlines. Yakanaka, for example, works with disadvantaged women in Zimbabwe to provide them with a safe working environment and a reliable income in one of the world’s most troubled places. On top of that, the jewellery itself is stunning – reflective of local African traditions with a fabulous, contemporary western twist.
Perhaps the highest-profile ethical issue in jewellery is that of conflict gems, in particular diamonds. These are stones mined in conflict zones (usually in Africa), the proceeds of which go to fund civil wars and armed uprisings. These armed struggles often involve child soldiers and result in brutal devastation of whole communities and regions. Thanks to global awareness and unified action, it is now possible to ensure that any diamonds you buy are mined from more ethical sources. In fact, the action against “blood diamonds” is a great example of how global action can help address a critical ethical issue.
As an ethical consumer, you need to find a balance and accept that it’s impossible to be perfect. However, if you choose to buy something you love and won’t throw away, you are already halfway there. If you also ensure the piece was made under fair conditions by people getting paid a living wage, then you are doing better still. And if you can avoid conflict gems too, then you can wear your beautiful, ethical jewellery with pride! So pride, self-confidence and beautiful jewellery – you really couldn’t ask for more from your accessories this season.