This is Source – Jewellery’s Fairtrade Journey, a beautiful coffee table book compiled by Deborah Miarkowska of EcoChic and Jo Swannell-Owen. I was very pleased to be asked to contribute an article to this amazing book, and I’d like to encourage everyone to go out and buy it straight away. Informative, inspirational and beautifully put together – this book really taught me a lot about the jewellery industry, the terrible human rights and environmental problems that plague it, and the steps that are being taken by some remarkable people to improve the situation and make the jewellery-making process as beautiful as the end result.
I have to admit that before I got involved with Source, I was almost completely ignorant about the ethical issues surrounding jewellery. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that a small-scale miner would routinely risk dangerous working conditions, disease and death during the course of his day; that he would be improperly compensated for his efforts or robbed of a fair sale price by unscrupulous middle-men. I didn’t realise that there is a real problem with children being involved in the mines or that some of the chemicals used in the mining process are toxic and can cause brain damage. What a perverse injustice that miners who spend their days surrounded by gold should be desperately impoverished themselves as a result of industry corruption, and bad business practices, and unfair market conditions. Until recently, even if a consumer wanted to know where exactly their gold had come from, a jeweller would not have been able to tell them.
Thankfully, this is starting to change as a result of the Fairtrade Fairmined Gold Mark that was launched last year – the world’s first independent ethical certification for gold. The mark guarantees that the gold has been mined in an environmentally responsible manner and that the workers have been fairly paid. It guarantees an absence of child labour in the mines, protects the rights of women miners and ensures that the gold has not funded any violent conflict.
Source tells the story of the fairtrade mark and looks in greater depth at some of the main issues (the interview with the Columbian miner is particularly fascinating) – but it also celebrates the pioneers of ethical jewellery – the designers, makers and retailers who are taking a different approach to the industry – one that empowers artisanal miners and local communities to improve their own circumstances in a way that simply would not have been possible before.
What I really admire is that, for many of these ethical jewellers, they do not merely refrain from doing wrong; they actively involve themselves in nurturing positive change as well. Oria donates ten percent of the profit from their endangered species collection to the IUCN Red List, which works to protect these animals; Arabel Lebrusan supports The Water Project, an NGO that strives to address the water problem in Sierra Leone; SilverChilli reinvests a whopping 95% of their profits back into social projects that benefit the entire local communities in Mexico, such as buying computers for schools and planting a 220 tree forest.
So much work went into this book, so huge congratulations to Deborah and everyone else who was involved with it. It was truly a labour of love to celebrate truly beautiful jewellery and I think that shows in the end product.
You can buy the book here. You can also find out more about fairtrade gold here. The first picture is a piece from April Doubleday’s collection and the other three are by Arabel Lebrusan – two of the ethical jewellers who feature in the book.