You’ve probably heard about blood diamonds–whether it be from the sparkling light cast on the issue in the 2006 movie Blood Diamond starring Leonardo di Caprio, or from the media attention that followed. But are diamonds the only minerals which use unethical practices in their sourcing and manufacture? And how do we go about finding fair and sustainable alternatives? A little research with some simple principles in mind can help you find a lasting piece that will make you feel good inside and out.
Gold and silver – environmental and human rights concerns
“Gold mining is a dirty, destructive business – no way around that” says Melinda Nugent from Ethical Jewellery Australia. The gold mining industry has a particularly poor history, with issues of environmental degradation, worker exploitation, habitat destruction, the displacement of indigenous peoples, and the use of mercury and cyanide in the mining process.
So how can we ensure that the metal in your jewellery is ethical? Melinda Nugent suggests keeping your eye out for recycled or fair trade metals.
Fairtrade certifications ensure that the rights of workers are being protected and respected. There are Fairtrade certifications available for both gold and silver, but neither are as accessible as they could be. Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand maintains a list of the few current Australian outlets, with Zoe Pook Jewellery being the only one currently on the list.
Another option is to look for pieces made from recycled gold and silver. By choosing recycled-metal jewellery we avoid adding to any environmental degradation, worker protection or indigenous exploitation issues caused by new mineral extraction. Paris-based silversmith Minicyn explains how you can keep an eye out for recycled jewellery. “When buying silver and gold, take a few minutes to check the ‘About/Home’ section of the specialist manufacturer you are buying from. Most silver and gold suppliers do manufacture recycle precious metals.” Manufacturers are likely to advertise this on their websites.
When looking around for Fairtrade or recycled gold and silver, make sure to communicate your interest in them to the retailer you are shopping with. In raising awareness of consumer interest in fair trade minerals, we are creating an incentive for more outlets to source and sell these products.
Start by finding out where a diamond has been sourced and where it was cut. Speak to your jeweller and see if you can seek out a diamond that you can track all the way from the mine to your ring finger, so you know it has been mined, cut and manufactured fairly and sustainably. The Kimberley Process was set up as an international certification for conflict-free diamonds, however there are some holes in this certification process, as Professor Ian Taylor (of the University of St Andrews) explains.
Australian and Canadian diamonds are generally thought of as more sustainable and conflict-free diamond choices. Some concerns remain regarding the impact of diamond mining on the environment and indigenous communities.
Pearls – an eco-friendly alternative
Pearls are a renewable resource, and they can be farmed and harvested in an eco-friendly way. Many are also farmed organically, for example the Kamoka pearl farm in French Polynesia. It is important to consider that not all pearl farms are eco-friendly–some use cleaning processes that negatively affect the local environment–so it’s always a good idea to check where your pearls have been sourced . Also, if you or the person you are buying jewellery for is a vegan, pearls might not be the best option as they are an animal product.
If you are concerned about the impact of toxic chemicals used in the leather tanning process affecting workers, communities and the environment, keep your eye out for brands that use vegetable tanning as opposed to leather tanned with dangerous chemicals and minerals such as chromium. If you are buying a gift for someone who is vegan or animal conscious, consider choosing cords and chains made of man-made fibres as opposed to leather. Check out Otter’s article on leather and leather alternatives for more information.
Feeling overwhelmed? How to check if your jeweller meets your ethical needs
Putting all that time into researching the materials and manufacturing of your jewellery can be a little off-putting, so it’s good to know that there are retailers who have already done some of the hard work for you.
The Responsible Jewellery Council lists jewellers around the world who have been independently audited and found to comply with their standards regarding human rights, labour rights, environmental impact, mining practices, product disclosure and other ethical issues.
We are aware of four Australian jewellers that focus on ethical and/or sustainable jewellery, Ethical Jewellery Australia, Zoe Pook Jewellery, Utopian Creations and Megan Webb. They all have a different focus, so check out their sites to see if they meet your aesthetic needs as well as your ethical ones.
For more information on responsible jewellery in Australia, this Otter article rounds up a few valuable links.
It is also important to remember that it is not only our jewellery and the metals we see that may be sourced from conflict areas – our electronics are also using tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold, which are all conflict metals. For more information, check out the what goes into your mobile article from Otter.
By Grace Boglev