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Four Questions That Separate Spin From Truth When Purchasing Ethical Jewelry

Aug 18, 2007
A few jewelry companies today differentiate themselves from the competition by branding themselves as producing green or fair trade jewelry. They're taking advantage of a growing market that values socially responsible business practices.

As a consumer, how do you determine the level of sincerity of these companies which are screaming so loudly about how "good" they now have become? The answer is simple: ignore how they are branding themselves. Distrust their advertising. Rather, get on their website and see how transparent they are in the sourcing and production of their product.

Marketing of jewelry attempts to seduce the consumer so that ethics are not ever considered. One of the most famous advertising slogans of all time is, "Diamonds are a girl's best friend." Certainly, I would never consider giving my best friend something from an industry whose practices within the last fifteen years supported wars that resulted in the death of 3.7 million Africans.

It is not just about diamonds, either. Diamonds or gemstones make up only a part of a piece of jewelry. Every piece of jewelry is made up of multiple components which could be sourced from several continents. The fabrication of each component had some impact on the environment. In addition, some laborer was actually paid a wage to make the piece. The jewelry industry has been so price driven that those at the sourcing end have suffered to provide people in the developed world with bling.

Particularly with jewelry which is purchased to represent deep sentimental and enduring values, you may want to know the true cost of what you are producing. Here are five issues that you can raise with the company you are prospecting.

1) Who Are Your Outsourcing Partners?
The first step is to attempt to nail down the true social impact of the jewelry that interests you by considering labor standards from the mine and in the factory. This involves a discussion with your jewelry on the sourcing of the pieces. Find out what is happening in those outsourced factories which any responsible jeweler should have a first hand knowledge of.

2) Where Exactly Were the Diamonds Mined?
If you are interested in diamonds, try to more beyond canned responses sales person response such as, "All our diamonds are purchased under the conflict free." Many sales people bypass this issue by dismissing its relevance. Yet, like a dark family secret, any insider in the jewelry industry knows that the Kimberly process, though a valiant attempt to deal with diamond related atrocities, has huge holes in it. Conflict diamonds that are filtering into the supply chain, even though every jewelry company in the world claims it only deals with "conflict free" stones. Even if that were the case, many diamonds that are conflict free, such as those from Sierra Leon, are mined under absolutely horrendous labor conditions.

You also can review the environmental impact of the jewelry you are interested in. Mining has a history of toxicity, but it is possible for jewelers to purchase recycled gold and platinum that involves no mining. Diamonds can also be purchased from Canada which has stricter environmental and labor safeguards, though that raises it own set of issues, since many legitimate mines in Africa depend upon diamonds for their economy.

3) What Percentage of Your Jewelry are Ethical?
Keep in mind that it is extremely difficult for a jeweler who is concerned about ethical sourcing to have a truly ethical product. At present, only a few companies, most of them producing very high end jewelry, have been able to integrate their socially responsible concerns throughout their supply chain. A handful of small companies are in transition, doing an excellent job at trying to integrate their values into the product, but the supply chain and market are still in their infancy.

4) What Environmental Practices Does Your Company Support Internally?
It is also worth noting what environmentally friendly practices your jewelry is supporting in his or her company. Any jeweler can be environmentally friendly in their own store. Recycling, carbon offsets, and even compact fluorescent lighting shows a strong commitment to the environment.

What you are looking for is transparency, not perfection. Perfection should not be the enemy of the good. If a company is paying attention to the ethics of their supply chain, it means that they are alert to change when the opportunity presents itself. They should be supported. Small incremental improvements can have significant impact over time.

To be transparent means forgoing the market spin which dissociates jewelry from its true social and environmental cost, and relying instead on business ethic integrity which supports ecology and sustainable communities. Jewelers who take this action have an opportunity to differentiate their business from the competition in a growing market that values ecological and socially responsible business. Such companies need the support of consumers who share their concerns.
About the Author
Marc Choyt is President of Reflective Images, www.celticjewelry.com, a jewelry company that practices socially responsible business.Marc authors www.fairjewelry.org a movement website for consumers and jewelers supporting green and fair trade jewelry. He also originated The Circle Manifesto,
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