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The fight for ethical jewelry

There are numerous factors that contribute to jewelry produced under conditions that violate the human rights of the workers. This jewelry could be called “conflict jewelry,” although not all of it is produced under conflict conditions. Some of the jewelry contains ingredients that are unethically mined, conditions which can be anything from situations of violence, poverty, civil wars, forced and child labor, unfair and dangerous working conditions, environmental and ecosystem destruction and corruption.

Often consumers are simply people who are not caring or are unaware of where their products originated. It is not only the responsibility of the retailers to provide ethically sourced jewelry, but also the consumers to want to know where their product is from, its supply chain and also who mined and created it.

Defining ethically sourced and conflict free jewelry

There are both positives and negatives to jewelers labeling their jewelry “conflict free.” At the very least, jewelry that has been granted the Kimberley Process’s “conflict free” certification can be narrowly defined as diamonds that do not finance rebel movements or civil wars. The Kimberley Process has become the most well known effort to regulate the diamond trade supply, attempting to keep out conflict diamonds. However this process will still include diamonds tainted by a number of other ethical issues including violence, child labor, worker exploitation and slavery, and environmental harm and can also be tied to abuses such as beatings, torture, rape and even killings.

Retailers should aim even higher toward being considered “ethically sourced.” To achieve this distinction a diamond must be mined in keeping with strict labor guidelines as well as environmental standards. Miners should be given fair wages, safe working conditions and be of legal working age as to prevent child labor. Companies must also responsibly treat the ecosystems they mine with care so after they have left the environment hasn’t been mined to the point it is unusable.

Supply Chain/Mining

Transparency in the supply chain helps consumers determine whether or not a piece of jewelry is ethically sourced. The process begins with who is mining the precious metals and in what location. Marc Choyt, co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action, described via a phone interview a video of a woman mining in mercury in order to discover gold. This is step one in the chain for some individuals. Miners have the right to health and safety just as all other employees do and these are values that get overlooked in this “dirty” practice. These unregulated actions have placed thousands in critical conditions and even cost some their lives.

One of the poorest countries that has been destroyed thanks to the greed in the supply chain has been the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While this country is extremely rich in minerals, it desperately lacks freedom. Since being colonized in the 1800s by Belgians who had little regard for the common good, slavery has become a common occurrence with the population.

On the ethical side of sourcing, Canada has proven their ability to be aware of how they harvest materials. Diamonds are a common find in the country and Toby Pomeroy, founder and owner of a sustainable jewelry company. Pomeroy tries to exclusively purchase these minerals from up north.

“We buy from Canada when we can because we know there is no human rights abuse happening there and they’re at least meeting all of the government and provincial standards for ecological mining,” Pomeroy said via a phone interview.

After determining where the materials have been derived from, the process continues with their transportation. Unapproved transportation and delivery practices can harm a chain as well, and companies are responsible for being aware of everything that occurs up until it lands in the customer’s hands. Transparent supply chains are a global effort that require high dedication standards but in the end provide a high level of satisfaction.

“As soon as opportunities became available to use recycled metals…and we could trace back to reliable producer communities, we did it. There is a more humanistic and fair approach to the process rather than stepping on everyone below,” Choyt said.

Although the jewelry industry can get a bad reputation, there are still jewelers making strides to follow ethical guidelines as closely as possible and feel it is their moral obligation to do so.

Working towards a solution

The search for a solution does not require any elaborate planning and is affordable for everyone to participate in.

Show that you care.

Simple steps to becoming more aware are taking the time to learn about the importance of ethical jewelry and not being afraid to voice your opinion. There are articles, educational resources and organizations available to assist interested individuals in the process of learning about the issue. Becoming an advocate just takes understanding and determination.

“The biggest difference that could be made is at a grassroots level…just talk to people. When they [the companies] know that people are interested, it makes such a difference,” Pomeroy said.

Speaking up is a compelling way to get a point across and one that is sure to be heard. For example, if a company is producing products from irresponsible sources yet consumers purchase them anyway, chances are that they will continue their practice to maintain their profit. If the company started losing business however due to consumers complaining about the origin of their products, then changes would be made.

“I think when you approach these things, you know, sincerity really gets you pretty far,” Choyt said.


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