When will the jewellery industry catch up?

Shopping ethically has become increasingly popular over the last decade, with many consumers opting for high quality products with sustainable credentials in spite of financial pressures. Despite this high demand, the jewellery industry has remained a little stagnant in this respect, says Alan Frampton

With the majority of the industry using materials from unknown supply chains that are produced in appalling standards, European legislation is around the corner that will have a similar affect to Dodd Franks in the USA. Large organisations will have to demonstrate where they sourced their materials with an audit system that will have repercussions for non-compliance.

The first few years following the introduction of Dodd Franks demonstrated how much work there was to be done and the non-compliance in the first couple of years was considerable. The issue with all this accreditation is simple – currently the jewellery industry is behind other commercial sectors and more importantly the systems do not bear much scrutiny. By and large the current systems do not address provenance and provide too many get-out clauses so that people can be accredited without changing much.

Essentially it means the diamonds or the gold used in your jewellery may come from exploited workers earning $1 a day with no health and safety precautions, and where child labour is rife but the customer is none the wiser because the supply chain is opaque.

If we do a few comparisons with other industries we find just how unserious the jewellery industry is in the way it manages supply chain. For example, if you buy a garden shed from B&Q they will be able to tell you where the wood came from and how it has been treated. It will have an independently audited certificate for the forests used to produce that shed, that costs as little as £200. Similarly if you buy blueberries in January from a supermarket they will tell you that they have been grown according to a specification in Chile on a named farm, again costing a mere £3.50.


However, if you buy a £2,000 diamond ring the chances are there will be nothing to tell you about where the products come from other than a certificate to tell you that it is a diamond (even they can vary depending on who certified the stone). Can you imagine getting a certificate with a shed to tell you it’s a shed?

Having been in the jewellery industry for the last five years I have constantly asked myself a few questions:

  1. Is this just too difficult? No, of course not. It’s a bit more expensive but definitely achieveable. At Cred Jewellery we use Fairtrade Gold and Canadian Diamonds – both traceable and produced responsibly.
  2. Does anyone care about supply chain? Outside Europe and the States the answer is: probably not. However big company problems like Volkswagen and the emissions scandal have meant that companies are acutely aware how they need to be trusted by their customers. More and more European customers are asking questions about how products are being produced.
  3. Is there a monopoly? I think that there is almost one for gold and diamonds. The market and its governance is controlled by large Swiss refiners and the big diamond companies. Too many of the large accreditation systems are controlled by members of these companies to ensure dominance.
  4. Does the consumer care about the ethical issues? Even in the UK whilst the market for ethical products has grown enormously, not everyone cares about it. If you compare it with grocery shopping not everyone shops at Waitrose and Sainsburys, many still shop at Lidl and Aldi. The reality is that like all retail the market varies. The conscientious consumer occupies 25-30% of the market. They have become important in many sectors of which jewellery is going to be next owing to its multiple issues in the extraction industry associated with gold and diamonds.
  5. What will drive change? Consumer awareness and leadership will be at the forefront, closely followed by legal frameworks. It will never be as dramatic as that, it rarely is, as more people become aware of the availability it will increase demand for ethically sourced jewellery and those sourced from a known supply chain.

The jewellery industry is vulnerable to scrutiny as there are many issues that are not being addressed. One thing that is for sure is over the last 4-5 years there has been a lot of discussion about the lack of ethical awareness in the industry and it needs to be dealt with. There is no excuse now for not being aware that there is an issue. The question we must all ask ourselves is: “Am I happy that everything in my organisation is professional, responsible, sustainable and honest? Can I look my customers in the eye, can I sleep at night?”

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