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Interview with Steve D'Esposito on Fair Trade Jewelry

Oct 13, 2007
I conducted this interview with Steve D'Esposito:

MC: Given EARTHWORKS' highly charged "Dirty Gold" campaign which many perceived as hostile to the jewelry industry, how it is now that you have now coalesced support to sponsor this jewelry summit? Can you outline, briefly, what led you to this position and the role of the Madison Dialogue?

SD: That's a misperception. The campaign calls for "No Dirty Gold." It's not a campaign against gold. It's a campaign that says we need to add new values to those that society already assigns to the act of buying, giving or owning jewelry.

Let's take a wedding ring, it's about adding the values of protecting people, water, mountains, and creatures to those of love, commitment and romance. Therefore, the idea is to make jewelry even more valuable. That's a winning proposition for everyone and I think that's why there is interest from all sectors in finding ways to work on some of these issues in a collaborative fashion. This doesn't mean everyone who will participate is in agreement on every issues, it simply means that we agree that it is important to work together, where we can, to help promote ethical, responsible sourcing of jewelry in the small-scale mining sector. Actually, if you look closely at these issues, what's highly charged isn't the campaign; it's what happens in communities and to the environment when mining happens without care for people or the environment.

After all, the campaign simply holds up a spotlight and points it at what's wrong-to create pressure to do things better. The "Madison Dialogue" was set up last year to help foster collaboration across sectors on issues of responsible sourcing in the jewelry sector. Since there were so many emerging projects and initiatives a number of us felt that it would be good create a vehicle that allows us to talk to each other, collaborate and share information. If you go to the website you will also see that the "Madison Dialogue" has also helped publish a number of Issue Papers on key developments in this sector like the work of the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) on the emerging gold standard and the Development Diamond Initiative (DDI).

MC: I would think that such a conference would have TransFair USA (the certification agent for Fair Trade) as a central player. Are they going to be involved at all? Are there going to be any other sponsors besides your organization?

SD: Yes, FLO Internationial/TransFair USA is on the steering committee that has been formed to plan and carry-out the meeting. Other steering committee members include EARTHWORKS, Jewelers of America, the Assocation for Responsible Mining, CASM, Rapaport Group, Ethical Metalsmith, DeBeers, and Partnership Africa Canada. We will also be seeking sponsors to help cover the meeting costs.

MC: What are the objectives of the conference?

SD: This Summit aims to bring together the civil society, community, government and commercial organizations (from mine to retail) that currently are working to address social, human rights and environmental issues in the small-scale mining sectors that supply raw materials (including diamonds, colored gems, gold and other precious metals) to the jewelry industry. It will also include processors and fabricators of recycled materials.
The Summit's goals are:

* To agree on credible definitions for the descriptive terms that currently are being used to market so-called "ethical" jewelry. These terms include: "fair trade," "green," and other adjectives.

* To recognize credible efforts to develop robust standards and third-party verification systems for ethically sourced minerals.

* To build and/or strengthen partnerships between sometimes-diverse stakeholders interested in ethically sourced minerals, so that responsibly produced jewelry can begin to reach the consumer market in a timely manner.

* To establish next steps both in terms of the development of standards and processes and concrete projects, trials and other activities.

MC: One of the concerns I've had is that up until now, many of the "ethical" initiative in the jewelry industry have been dominated by large players. Yet I have learned from my research that in many cases, with the exception perhaps of the Rapaport Group and Hoover and Strong, the smaller companies are doing the authentic, ground breaking innovative work around ethically sourced jewelry. How are you going to assure, through the organizational structure of the conference, that all people involved, not just the large players, get an equal voice at the table?

SD: You put your finger on a very important issue. My assessment of the sector is that there is, and should be, space for all types of participants looking to advance these issues. I suspect that certain types of activities and projects are a better fit for smaller companies and other types of projects are more suitable at a larger scale. It seems to me that given the small scale of many of the early efforts, the inherently small nature of many ASM projects, and the time it will take to actually bring supply on line, most of these ethical projects are likely to start relatively small and then build. At the meeting we will try to ensure that there is a diversity of participants and an agenda that gives voice and space to all.

MC: Who is invited to come and are there any costs involved for the participants?

SD: Given space constraints there will be a limit on participants-but we will seek participants from all sectors. The steering committee will soon circulate a meeting concept paper that outlines all of this-and there will be a point person for each sector-so that those we are interested and approach the steering committee and request an invitation.

MC: Anything else that you would like to add?

SD: Three things:

1) Your website on Fair Jewelry, is great.

2) It's important to emphasize that while EARTHWORKS has been a catalyst for this meeting, it's not our meeting-we are one of the organizers but the meeting will only succeed only if its is owned by all of the participants.

3) We still have one threshold to cross to make sure that the meeting occurs-we need to raise enough money from sponsors to cover the projected expenses and we plan to begin outreach to potential sponsors ASAP.
About the Author
Marc Choyt is President of Reflective Images, an award winning jewelry company, www.celticjewelry.com that sells wedding rings sourced by artisan designers online at www.artisanweddingrings.com. His company produces fair, eco-sourced, fairly trade jewelry. Marc also authors www.fairjewelry.org supporting green, fair trade, socially responsible jewelry practices.
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