Monday, 28 June 2010

Ethical - to be or not be that is the question?

Just as we’ve seen the rise of things like fair trade coffee beans, so the new phrase we’re hearing a lot of at the moment is ethical jewellery. At Dinny Hall we certainly don’t buy blood diamonds or emeralds from cocaine barons, nor do we knowingly exploit anybody in the world but when it comes to ethics I’m not sure how easily one can apply the word to the jewellery industry (or any other industry for that matter). More often than not the word ‘ethical’ is used to describe jewellery as a marketing tool rather than to mean that some regulatory authority has approved the product to be ‘morally correct’ like The Soil Association does with organic food for example.

I do admire anyone who endeavours to buy gold or gemstones ‘ethically’ but to my mind it appears to be almost impossible to achieve. What if I double my carbon footprint by flying all over the world to secure ethically mined gold? How many small gold miners are aware that the cyanide that is pumped out as a by-product of gold mining pollutes the water their children bathe in, as well as damaging the local ecosystem? How can one ethically police such remote places and be entirely sure of the highest moral standards both environmentally and on a human level.

I am unconvinced and worry that when it comes to marketing jewellery as ethical it is more often than not just a fashionable bandwagon that’s been jumped onto.

On the subject of gemstones and ethics though I have an old friend called Guy Clutterbuck who, in his youth, reminded me of Indiana Jones, with his tales of riding out with Afghan horsemen to ancient lapis lazuli mines and carrying back rucksacks full of the raw material to the UK. I would have the lapis cut into onion dome shapes in Ipswich (no less) and then set into solid gold; I do so wish that I had kept one pair at least of those earrings. Several swimming pools later, yes whole swimming pools of lapis lazuli, and a few years on Guy now works partly in Zambia where he owns an aquamarine mine, and a chunk of his profits go back into the community to build schools, proper sanitation, help provide clean water. Here I can actually see a truly ethical transaction going on between an individual in the jewellery industry and the miners directly but I cannot vouch for the rucksacks of lapis lazuli or indeed the swimming pools of yester year.

There are of course many other examples of people in the jewellery industry who are genuinely working towards a more ethically sound business and we do our best at Dinny Hall to ensure that our gold and precious gemstones come from sources that we trust to be working toward fair trade globally and look forward to the day when there is an industry wide standard we can all sign up to so that we can all feel a little bit more comfortable that ethical claims have been checked.

Guy Clutterbuck with his friends in Zambia at the Kamakanga mine

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