Join us for our weekly BAJ:Insight on the latest industry trends by Rachael Taylor, a freelance journalist who writes about jewellery for a number of titles, including The Financial Times, The Jewellery Editor and Retail Jeweller. In her 10 years reporting on the industry, she has travelled the globe to visit key industry fairs, descended a Fairtrade gold mine on top of a Peruvian mountain, toured silver jewellery factories in Thailand, and regularly has access to the most sparkling jewels and people in the business.
I have written before in this column about how working in an ethical manner is no longer a niche extra, but should be considered a basic essential. After spending an afternoon with Human Rights Watch, listening to a presentation on the gross injustices suffered by artisanal gold miners, I’m even more convinced that jewellers operating without transparency will suffer.
Human Rights Watch
Some of the horrific tales of human rights abuse told at the event by an eyewitness included dogs being set on Zimbabwean artisanal miners, often resulting in their deaths, and groups of people being shot. The perpetrators accused of these crimes are said to work for official government-run mines, which are approved by the Kimberley Process. They were said to inflict violence on the local community in order to protect their investment. Read the full report from Human Rights Watch here.
Zimbabwean artisanal miners
Now more stories of mining abuses have emerged, as coloured gemstone miner Gemfields – a company that claims to be dedicated to transparency and ethics – has been accused of 29 allegations of human rights abuse in Mozambique. There, police have been accused of burying unauthorised miners alive, as well as confiscating their land and carrying out beatings. Gemfields has denied involvement in the abuses, but says that it takes such allegations very seriously and has been trying to work with local authorities on human rights issues.
Sadly, the jewellery industry is only at the very beginning of its journey towards truly transparent supply chains, and for jewellers wishing to work with entirely ethically sourced materials, there are but a few options. For gold, it has to be Fairtrade or Fairmined; both systems were given the thumbs up from Human Rights Watch. Trusted ethical diamond supplies can be found in Australia and Canada, where local working laws ensure against labour and environmental mistreatment.
Floral Fragments earrings by Natalie Perry in Fair-trade yellow gold
Phine Jewellery works with Fairtrade gold and ethically sourced materials
With coloured gemstones, it is much harder to guarantee their emergence from the ground has been free from human suffering or environmental toll, so at the moment, lab-grown coloured gemstones are perhaps the only truly viable ethical option. These stones, which can be graded just as mined gems, can be just as beautiful, and are also less expensive. Anabela Chan, who only works with lab-grown stones, from diamonds to black opal, is a brilliant example of a fine jeweller that is thriving without gemstone mining.
Anabela Chan uses only lab-grown diamonds and coloured gemstones in her jewellery designs
Emerald Blossom ring by Anabela Chan, set with a lab-grown emerald and lab-grown diamonds
As Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch, says: “An increasing number of customers want to be sure the jewellery they buy has not fuelled human rights abuses. Jewellery companies owe it to their customers and to the communities affected by their businesses to source truly responsibly and allow public scrutiny of their actions.” Well said.
Juliane Kippenberg – associate child rights director at Human Rights Watch