Emergence Of Fair Trade Jewelry

Emergence Of Fair Trade Jewelry

Jewelry, perhaps more than any other object we own, has tremendous emotional, symbolic and talismanic value.  For this reason alone, fair trade really should be behind any jewelry purchase.  It makes no sense whatsoever that a wedding ring, which represents our most noble sentiments and commitments, may feature a blood diamond mounted on gold that caused twenty tons of toxic mine tailings poisoning some watershed in Peru.

Yet such a ring is being produced and possibly sold in your local jewelry store right now because the supply chain is still greased by environmental and social atrocities.  The sector is totally commodity based and price driven. It is marketed with seductive romance, yet sourced like lumber or oil. 

Today, we are beginning to see viable alternatives.  Many jewelers and activists are working at a grassroots level to create a parallel economy with a different set of values. The economic benefit created through jewelry can help to alleviate poverty and environmental degradation in small scale mining communities throughout the world.

In fact, we are at the early stages of a  beautiful vision for the jewelry world.  The emerging fair trade movement allows those interested in a luxury product to direct significant economic benefit to some of the poorest people in the developing world.   

Fair Trade Jewelry

The foundation of any fair trade movement centers on traceability and transparency. You need to know where your piece of jewelry comes from, all the way back through its manufacturing process to the source of the raw materials. Beyond that, fair trade works within a set of principles and on the ground standards to assure real economic benefit and environmental responsibility to the producer communities.

If you include families and communities, over 100 million people depend upon small scale mining for survival, according to the World Bank. These artisanal miners produce more raw materials and benefit more people than all the large scale multinational operations combined. For example, up to ninety percent of all gemstones come from small scale artisan miners.

The chaotic nature of small-scale mining districts can lead to unsafe and unfair working conditions and environmental damage. Artisanal mining can be a beneficial contributor to economic growth in the developing world only when destructive impact is mitigated, which is where fair trade comes in. 

Yet today, purchasing directly from artisanal miners is challenging because the supply chain often has many links. Materials are mixed with other goods and marketed as a commodity at the lowest possible price. The question is, how do we support their best efforts and bring their products and stories directly to the jewelry case? 

One organization that has helped is Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) (www.communitymining.org) ARM provided capacity and technical support to small scale miners. ARM worked directly with Fair Labeling Organization (FLO) and has been able to bring third party certified gold to market in the UK. This was the first time that a mined product was actually certified by a major fair trade organization.   

I have been very active in working is toward bringing Fair Trade gold to the US market as well through my human rights and environmental justice network, Fair Jewelry Action.   I am certain that with the help of people reading this post will someday come to pass.  

What The Green Buyer Can Do 

At present, the mainstream industry continues in engaging in bogus ethical standards that allows them to engage in much of the same disregard to the environment and human rights as in the past.  The organization to leading the efforts is the Responsible Jewelry Counsel (RJC).  One of its members, Rio Tinto, is attempting to mine Bristol Bay.  Another, Anglo Gold, was named one of the most terrible companys in the world by Public Eye.   

The RJC also continues to back the widely discredited Kimberley Certification Process (KPC), which supposedly prevents blood diamonds from entering the supply chain.   Kimberley Certification misleads consumers into thinking that the diamond they buy is conflict free. Yet a KPC diamond may come from the Marange Field in Zimbabwe where rapes and numerous other well documented, human rights atrocities have occurred. 

If the jewelry sector is to change, it must be consumer driven. Diamonds, traceable to their source, mine to market traceable gold and fair trade gemstones are indeed available from a few jewelers that care.   We are in a somewhat similar situation to where fair trade coffee was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the only thing that is going to motivate the average jeweler is money. If just 5% of people who walked into a jewelry store asked for fair trade gems and wedding rings made from recycled or fair trade metals, the industry would respond. 

How fast it takes to make ethically sourced jewelry the only socially acceptable choice is up to you and your community.


Marc Choyt is Founding Director of Fair Jewelry Action USA, http://www.fairjewelry.org, an environmental justice and human rights organization.   He creates designer jewelry made with recycled gold, silver and fair trade gemstones; and handmade, conflict free, eco-friendly wedding rings at www.artisanweddingrings.com and www.celticjewelry.com.