Just like how we question the production techniques of our clothes and the farming conditions of our food, the ethical trade surrounding our jewellery can raise a multitude of concerns.
For decades, the social, economic and environmental justices synonymous with the production of precious stones have been shrouded in deception. This never-ending cycle of questions and answers within the jewellery industry can be attributed to the vast disparity between fact and fiction, claims and denials, all of which prove to be baffling even for the conscientious customer or passionate jewellery enthusiast who simply wants to learn more. Very often, it takes an arduous journey of self-education in order to fully understand the complexities of this industry, so that informed decisions could later be made.
In a nutshell, a truly ethical jewellery business model should have the following values at it's heart:
Empower and Enrich
– To empower grassroots economic development, ultimately benefiting and enriching the lives and environments of artisanal small-scale mining communities by supporting responsible mining and creating new opportunities.
– To make room in its revenue stream to allow for positive contributions to environmental causes.
– To be accountable, traceable and transparent. As the supply chains for jewellery have been notoriously complicated and difficult to trace, it would do well for businesses to be well informed of the sustainability and accountability of the primary sources and also work on supporting full traceability and transparency from natural mines all the way to the buying client. This means that the client should always be able to trace the journey of the product all the way back to its original source and be confident of the work practices and environmental policies that are implemented at each stage. This is an especially poignant interest among the millennial population that has come to expect such high standards in any sustainable marketplace.
And most importantly,
– To maintain a consistent use of fair and sustainable practices throughout the supply and production chain, providing access to a completely traceable supply chain from the mine, from cutting and polishing to the market relationship between the retailer and client.
Although there is currently no single universal certification providing full reassurance that jewellery sold on the market is ethical, some retailers have taken matters into their own hands and taken it upon themselves to make the change. De Beers, for example, one of the giants of the industry which produces almost half of the world’s diamonds, have been able to make the claim that all of their products are “conflict free” because of a monumental decision made to no longer source from African countries with a history of conflict.
What about the smaller retailers? Can they make a difference? Thankfully, the answer is a great resounding yes. Regardless of size or market share, the smaller retailer is also able to take steps to create coherent dialogues between the product and the client, to find out where the gems have been sourced and how it has been made.
Just as demand and supply is a 2-way street, there are steps that the consumer can take to support this cause. Fostered by the increasing awareness of sustainable consumption for minerals, the ethical movement has finally started to seep into the public consciousness, allowing demand for ethical and responsible jewellery to grow steadily within the last decade. Asking informed questions and insisting on knowing the provenance of each piece of jewellery puts pressure on the industry to make the change, one step at a time.
Ultimately, acknowledging and managing the impact of mining and production on human quality of life and the environment at large promotes community development, education, and responsible future sourcing.