Where is Kimberley now? Decent diamonds, fair gold & the future of ethical jewellery

To get down and dirty with diamond dealings, we took to the streets.

OK, more like flexed our ring fingers and requested the latest information on the ethical diamond, gold and precious stones trade straight to our inboxes.

After many years of bloodshed financed by diamonds in developing countries, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was set up in December 2000 when the United Nations General Assembly created an international certification scheme for rough diamonds.

The KPCS finally became a force in 2003 when participating countries started to implement its rules: that diamonds came from conflict free zones and didn’t fund illegal warfare. As of November 2012, the KPCS had 54 participants, with the EU and its member states counting as a single participant.

Fast forward to 2012 and is it still doing the job it set out to do?

Not according to Global Witness, the charitable NGO which has recently left the process. Chairman Gooch, a Founding Director of Global Witness had this to say:

Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes

The scheme has failed three tests: it failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from the Cote D’Ivoire, was unwilling to take serious action in the face of blatant breaches of the rules over a number of years by Venezuela and has proved unwilling to stop diamonds fuelling corruption and violence in Zimbabwe. It has become an accomplice to diamond laundering – whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems.

The Kimberley Process was a start but it’s by no means a done deal that the diamonds bought in your local high street aren’t a product of violence in the Global South. Jewellers are beginning to look beyond the Kimberley Process, demanding traceable origins of the diamonds and other precious stones that they sell.

Can Canada deliver clean diamonds?

Many ethically minded jewellers offer diamonds that are fully traceable back to the mine, which is usually in Canada. This process ensures that the miners receive a fair price for their work and will be treated humanely. The downside is that some of these mines are creating real environmental problems due to scale.

This is what eco jewellers, Green Karat have to say about Canadian diamonds:

  • The mines are often built in environmentally fragile ecosystems, have significant ecological footprints, and will significantly impact upon the caribou, wolverine, bears, ptarmigan and fish which provide food for Aboriginal peoples.
  • Exploitation and mining distort and disrupt the cultural and social lives of Aborginal peoples and the regional economy and very few of the financial benefits from the mines return to the people who suffer most of the impacts.
  • The federal, provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks in Candada are inadequate to protect the environment from long term and cumulative environmental effects.

Ingle and Rhode are passionate about their Canadian diamonds which are “cut and polished according to guidelines established by the Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices.

“They are fully traceable, and the larger stones are laser-inscribed.”

They have also found ethical sources for almost all types of coloured gemstones, “including ruby, sapphire, emerald, tanzanite, peridot, amethyst, aquamarine, citrine and tourmaline.”

CRED Jewellery diamonds are mined by Debeers and are cut and polished in Namibia; the site holder is government owned, and therefore returning funds back to the Namibian State and providing jobs and development in the country.

Even before this announcement, jewellers such as Brilliant Earth were “hopeful” that the Kimberley Process’s narrow and ineffective definition of a “conflict diamond would be expanded to include the grievous labour and human rights abuses that it leaves out in its current form.”

Like many others they were disappointed that this global agreement and structure couldn’t be adapted.

Brilliant Earth offers a choice of mines in Canada, Namibia, Botswana or Russia and “meets the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility.”

Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold

In March 2010, the Fairtrade Foundation and the Alliance for Responsible Mining announced the launch of the Fairtrade and Fairmined gold standards. It is the world’s first independent ethical certification scheme for gold that comes exclusively from artisanal or small-scale miners.

I would ask (the people in the UK) to understand that when they buy our gold, they’ll be doing a good thing and helping many women who work hard and struggle in order to get the gold.

Jenny Torres Delgado, 27 year old miner in Santa Filomena, Peru

Buying Fairtrade Fairmined gold means that the miner receives a fair price, and will be working under decent health and safety conditions. Plus they also get an extra amount of money that is invested back into the community.  CRED Jewellery founder, Greg Valerio spearheaded the campaign to make Fairtrade Fairmined gold a reality.

Finally, a transparent chain that goes further than the Kimberley Process and includes gold.

Wear it again, Jane

Jeweller, Jane Runchman had an interesting alternative to freshly mined gold and diamonds in the current economic crisis:

“The ethical and economic issues which have had an impact on me and my clients over the last year are that 50% of my clients last year were recycling their own jewellery to keep costs of materials down and mining new materials to a minimum.

“More clients than ever last year were mining their own jewellery boxes for metals and stones which they no longer wear – an odd earring, a broken chain, pieces they had inherited and aren’t the kind of jewellery they wear – we all have them. Because I make bespoke pieces we can use this ‘treasure’ in creating a new piece.

“It’s been going on since jewellery making began – recycling unworn pieces of jewellery to make new, fresh pieces which will be worn and loved.”

The future of the ethical wedding band

Have the Fairtrade Fairmined mark and origin diamonds made the consumer on the high street more discerning about their jewellery choices? Our research seems to suggest that  for ethical jewellers, their passion is paying off.

Here is what some of them had to say:

“The demand for ethical fine jewelry was stronger than ever in 2012, and we anticipate that this strong interest in ethical sourcing and pure origins will continue to grow in 2013.  Many couples indicated the importance of selecting an engagement ring or wedding ring that they could truly feel good about wearing.” Brilliant Earth

“For a number of years we have found our customers to be interested in where the metal (gold/platinum) and the gemstones are from and the ethical sourcing of the material. When customers are having a bespoke ring made they often are looking into these details as well as the design. Customers will want to know where the stones are from, how the rings are made and where they are made…

“Customers are offered both the regular metal and a Fairtrade Fairmined option if and where possible. If customers are not aware of the possibilities we talk it through with them and often they will go for it once they have more information.

“Now the availability of the different alloys has made the offering extensive and most designs can be made into Fairtrade rings – especially now, with the introduction of Fairtrade platinum. We hope that in the future palladium will be possible in a Fairtrade option.” Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design

“Since its launch, more and more consumers are buying fairtrade gold. Our website has seen an increase in sales of fairtrade gold from 2011 compared with 2012, and generally it’s clear customers are more aware of it. We’re receiving more and more enquiries, asking if we are providers (we are a fairtrade gold licensee) and requesting assurance that the jewellery will be specially hallmarked.

“In 2013 I see this trend continuing, and with the launch of fairtrade platinum, concern with ethically sourced materials is only going to increase for the jewellery consumer. We are already receiving requests for fairtrade platinum, which we plan to offer on our site in the near future.” Arabel Lebrusan

“Yes more couples than ever are asking about ethical issues. Every one of my clients last year was concerned with the ethical origin of the materials we were using. I use recycled metals and ethically sourced and Fairtrade stones which is why a lot of my clients choose to use me.

“In the next year and into the future I hope that transparency and ethical practices increase along with consumer demands for ethical and Fairtrade products.” Jane Runchman Jewellery

“We continue to be involved in discussions about the developments in the Fairtrade Fairmined gold certification, and despite earlier set-backs, we are committed to getting the mark to Africa.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes which unfortunately we can’t give details about…but the Fairtrade Fairmined certification is definitely in demand…” Intriguing news from CRED Jewellery

“Around 40% of our customers have found us through their search for something truly ‘ethical’ – more people are now asking for more information and when they discover that the inflated high cost of diamonds is also untruthful and misleading, people, understandably, start getting very upset.

“We anticipate a further shift in awareness for 2013, especially now that diamond traders can no longer really try to hide behind the failed efforts of the Kimberley Process scheme.” Elaine Foreman – Kinetique

“Are more couples asking about ethical issues? It is difficult for me to say. My first wedding collection was launched just after I became a Fairtrade and Fairmined gold licensee so there is no before or after comparison. I will say, however, that becoming an ethical jeweller was a natural choice for me so I could wholeheartedly stand proud behind the work I was designing and producing.

“Of course, the benefits also extend to my clients in how they value and feel about their purchase. So whether my clients have approached me with an ethical agenda from the beginning or they fortuitously stumbled across an ethical agenda through my work – everyone is a winner.” Amanda Li Hope

Adam Jacobs sounds a note of caution:

“Given the wider economic circumstances it’s been a very fine line between the additional cost of ethical provenance and the pricing accessibility for the general market: a tension between the price and ethical provenance is a neat summary. Ethical provenance seems to be reasonably key criteria, but price remains the all important one.” Foundation Jewellery

While Hattie Rickards remains upbeat:

“2013 will see an even bigger increase in clients seeking that personal service for their one-off bespoke piece so I only see more of my clients purchasing ethical metals.

“Are more couples asking about ethical issues?  Yes and No!  Hattie Rickards Jewellery is a refined luxury brand focussed on making inspirational and desirable jewellery – I believe that’s what attracts the client.  The fact that we are committed to following ethical protocols is a bonus for some and a must for others.

“Better awareness of some of the horrendous conditions in the mining industry will encourage clients to make a conscious decision to choose ethical jewellery.” Hattie Rickards Jewellery

There we have it, ethically sourced wedding rings, whatever the stone or metal, are becoming more popular. But as Hattie says, it’s a bonus for some and a must for others. While many jewellers still offer both metals, it is their job to educate their customers about the origins of diamonds.

We need to spread the awareness too. If you are proud of your ethically sourced ring, be sure to shout about it – you could even slip it into the wedding vows: “With this Fairtrade Fairmined ring…”

Kate Marillat

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