Being a fair trade and ethical jeweller is not easy. It takes time, money and conviction to move towards a place where our knowledge of the impact our business has on our supply chain is as detailed as our knowledge of our finished products, customers and profit lines.
Some have argued that it is not the responsibility of the jeweller to engage in the many complex issues that the long and complicated supply chains throw up. Yet as we all know, first through the impact that ‘conflict diamonds’ has had on us and now the emerging issue of ‘dirty gold’, our customers will be increasingly influenced by media and campaign groups on issues around jewellery. As retailers we are the front line in answering the consumer questions. If we cannot answer and demonstrate progress on social and environmental issues we may find ourselves being left behind as the industry moves forward and as a result losing customers. In this piece I want to explore in headline terms the virtues of Fairtrade Gold and the value of recycled gold as practices for us to explore as jewellers.
The Virtues of Fair Trade.
Fair trade is an economic response to a development need. In short it represents a way to deliver economic justice to the poor and marginalised communities. When I began to research what Fair Trade jewellery should look like, it did not take me very long to discover that the huge hidden issue in the jewellery supply chain was the issue of artisanal & small-scale miners (ASM) being treated extremely badly by local and national authorities as well as large-scale mining companies. With over 100 million people globally dependent on ASM for a livelihood it is the second largest employer in the world. The reason fair trade as an idea has been so successful is because it combines a) a set of clear standards applicable to the product in question (gold in our case) b) it provides for a social premium, paid directly to the miners for their communal social benefit c) it uses 1/3rd party independent auditors to confirm that the claims that are made against the product are true d) the process is voluntary and based upon the conviction that the participant believes in the process and wants to make their contribution to sustainability in our world.
Below are some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) that fair trade gold will directly address and why socially and environmentally responsible jewellers will look to stock fair trade gold.
Goal 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Goal 2. Promote gender equality and empower women.
Goal 7. Ensure environmental sustainability.
Goal 8. Develop a global partnership for development.
The Virtues of Recycling.
Recycling Reduces new gold coming in to the supply chain. Approximately 30% of global gold production is recycled, however at this stage it is not enough to supply market demand. For example the UK consumes around 36 tonnes of gold (10 tonnes of this being recycled). However as there is no official statistic gathering system currently in place it is difficult to assess exactly what the overall measure is or impact that recycling is having on the supply chain. Whilst recycling does bring environmental benefits, it does not have any impact for those living in ASM communities where many people are landless and agricultural activities are not viable, leaving ASM as their only alternative to informal employment in city shanty towns.
If a company is intending to move to a more recycled option then they should make the point to seek out a supply company that guarantees 100% of what they offer is actually recycled. The way scrap gold is handled by most operators is that they mix it with fresh sources of gold when it comes to re-refining. Given the lack of physical traceability in the gold supply chain this could mean dirty gold getting into supplies that are sold as recycled, thereby undermining the ethical positioning of recycling.
The Virtuous Circle.
For the jeweller moving towards a more ethical supply chain the virtuous circle of sourcing, to maximise the impact on your supply chain as well as create the halo effect for your customers is fairly straight forward and in principle is as follows.
Firstly, always seek to source certified metals. This way you are not only improving the demonstrable ethical improvements in your business, you are also saying to your customers you are widening your range of products. Experience from fair trade shows that customers are genuinely attracted to businesses that can show a commitment to social and environmental concerns. It also means you do not have to compromise on design and style as most suppliers of certified metals are now able to do short run fabrication on sheet and wire for example.
Secondly, in the absence of a certified product, use 100% recycled material. Although recycled does not have the developmental or social impact that fair trade has, it does prove a clear movement in the right direction on environmental sustainability issues, which are very important given the fact that all metals are mined and mining is a very intrusive and often very polluting activity. As now doubt we have all heard at some point, reduce, reuse and recycle!
Thirdly, always ask the physical traceability question. In fact traceability is the defining issue in the ethical debate in the industry. If the jewellery suppliers cannot prove traceability, then how can we look our customers in the eye and claim an ethical product. Traceability is the cradle that nurtures the ethical debate and delivers the social good. The more we make traceability our mantra as jewellers, the more we will see the industry change to support the needs of our customers.
Although the principles for improving our ethical credentials as jewellers may on paper be fairly simple, implementing these principles can often be far from simple. It does take time and patience to achieve tangible improvements in these areas. By setting realistic targets it is more than possible over time to convert some, if not all, our product to the certified, recycled and traceable principles outlined above. There is a great deal of satisfaction to know that moving towards ethical principles in jewellery is delivering tangible change for the good.
Sources for certified metals.
Sources for 100% recycled metals: