I’ve wanted to write a post about ethical jewellery for a while. To be pretty frank with you, it’s not something I know a great deal about, and the information out there on the topic seems fairly sparse. If you were to Google the ethics of farming, or fast fashion, say, you’d be inundated with article after article from bloggers, national newspapers and charities supporting the cause. But when trying to research about ethical jewellery (including ethically sourcing everything from gold through to diamonds), the knowledge seems harder to track down, and is almost always from a brands point of view, and a company’s owned media can only ever be as reliable as they want to make it.
But we’re in the midst of Fairtrade Fortnight, and in the name of educating myself, and wanting to be an authority in this little space of the internet (which actually turns out to be a very big space), I thought I had better do my research.
But how did the jewellery trade become so unethical in the first place? Wearing jewellery isn’t a new thing by any stretch; women (and increasingly men) have been adorning themselves in stones and metals for centuries. But the speed at which these products are required, in order to fulfil the demands of the hurried and greedy consumers we have become today, is now unsustainable. As with any other industry, the jewellery industry has become less and less ethical, as the pressure on suppliers to mine more gold, silver and precious stones has sped up significantly over time. To keep up with this pace, miners around the globe are being forced to work in hazardous and dangerous environments, and we’re consequently shattering important ecosystems to keep up with these demands.
The thing about jewellery is that even if we have bought it from a shop or brand which we trust and enjoy, we still have no idea of the supply chain it took to produce that piece of jewellery and at what cost it was to workers to produce the materials. Brands like Cred Jewellery have been pioneers in the Fairtrade jewellery industry, creating the first ever Fairtrade gold wedding ring in 2011, and sourcing the first certified Fairtrade silver in 2013. But hold on, that’s since I left school? This side to the industry has such a long way to go before it catches up with the rest of the Fairtrade world in terms of education and knowledge worldwide.
How do we know if something has been made inline with Fairtrade principles? I think the Indy summed it up pretty clearly:
Accreditation can be confusing. The Fairtrade Foundation is the body that licences the use of its Fairtrade mark on products in the UK (look out for its distinctive label, and note the one-word spelling). Only certain materials have a set standard. It brought in the gold mark in 2011 and the silver one in 2013, meaning that producers have shown that the small-scale miners working on extracting the precious metals were paid fairly and can invest in living and working conditions in their communities. Sally Newell, the Independent
It seems consistently the best way of knowing that your jewellery was produced ethically is if you can trace the production of the piece of jewellery right the way from when the materials were first mined, and where that took place. If you’re buying from an independent jeweller, hopefully you’ll be able to find out where your jewellery was sourced and made. Often bigger brands, high street stores in particular, will not state where their jewellery is made, and where the materials were sourced, so there is no way of knowing how ethically it was produced. Unfortunately, you can probably assume it definitely wasn’t Fairtrade.
There are of course a number of gorgeous brands who claim only to produce pieces uses Fairtrade gold, others who simply avoid the subject altogether – possibly because they aren’t aware of how gold is sourced unethically, and possibly because they’d rather not think about it.
I think the thing to bear in mind when it comes to jewellery and being ethical is just understanding the process. This post is about raising awareness as it’s Fairtrade Fortnight (26th February – 11th March). Being entirely honest, I don’t know if any of the jewellery in my ever-growing collection has been produced with a Fairtrade stamp on it. I’m not sure if I could commit to ensuring everything I buy going forward is made with the Fairtrade seal of approval, mostly because there just aren’t enough brands out there producing great pieces ethically. But it’s certainly something I really want to consider going forward, and definitely when it comes to more expensive or meaningful pieces of jewellery that I intend to keep as heirlooms. I would urge more jewellers to think about where their gold is from, and at least be able to answer the question if shoppers want to know. I’ll absolutely be making more of an effort to ask; if something is more expensive, I would like to know that’s because the gold has been produced paying someone fairly, and not mining the gold in treacherous and harmful conditions.
I’ve found a lot of brands to produce Fairtrade jewellery not really to my taste. It seems that to be ethical, all of the brands making jewellery in this way have to give it a certain ‘ethical’ look – is that a thing? You know when you go to a Fairtrade health food store and it has a certain smell – hemp and incense. Well, somehow I think jewellery can look this way too when it’s been made Fairtrade. (Maybe that makes no sense at all… let me know.)
But here are some incredible pieces with the Fairtrade stamp, all of which are individual, unique pieces and certain to catch the eyes of all those around you. Anna Loucah, The Rock Hound and Gung-Ho Design are some new brands I’ve discovered through writing this piece and they are all amazing, and making some seriously cool and creative pieces ethically. Even better, you can wear them smugly, knowing nobody was harmed in the making of your bling. I’ve found so many beautiful charms and pendants – I have decided to make a Fairtrade charm bracelet for myself and will start collecting and curating that now, the below will certainly help!