If you’re a responsible fashionista, no doubt you are all over the issues around animal products, and wouldn’t be caught out, for example, by real, cruelly-sourced fur masquerading as faux fur. But how much do you think about who made your jewellery, where the stones and precious metals came from, or the human cost of your favourite pieces? It’s a complex issue: small-scale mining of precious metals is easier on the environment than larger, more industrial approaches, because less wasteful, but small-scale mining methods traditionally involve heavy exposure of workers to lethal toxins, and at unregulated mines child labour is also an issue.
Fortunately, The Fairtrade Foundation now licences the use of its ‘Fairtrade mark’ on a number of jewellery products in the UK, and has been certifying Fairtrade gold since 2011 and silver since 2013. The number of fair-trade jewellery designers, makers and sellers continues to grow, but look out for the distinctive UK Fairtrade label (and note the one-word spelling) to avoid vendors who might simply aim to exploit the growing demand. Genuine, accredited Fairtrade producers have had to prove the small-scale miners extracting their precious metals work safely and legally, and were paid fairly so that they can invest in better living and working conditions for their communities.
As yet there are no Fairtrade standards set for other metals, such as brass, for example. Look out for brands belonging to the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) or the British Association of Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS) who may work with organisations operating within broader fair trade guidelines, and ask for more information on the standards they work to and how those are monitored. A genuinely ethically-motivated jeweller will always be happy to share this information.
In case this is all feeling a bit too complicated, we’ve hunted out a few sources of gorgeous pieces which definitely stand up to ethical scrutiny.
Perhaps better-know for its Fairtrade-certified organic cotton clothing range, People Tree also partners with artisan non-profit Bombolulu to produce beautiful handmade jewellery in copper, brass and silver plate. Established in 1969 as a rehabilitation project sponsored by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, Bombolulu supports its artisans with vocational training and many social benefits. The jewellery features stunning geometric shapes and hand-beaten finishes. Check out their range for timeless minimal chic. peopletree.co.uk
If your wedding budget is more forgiving, and you want to support a business with a more consistent ethical vision, you might prefer the gorgeous, intricately crafted Fairtrade-certified pieces by this Bedford-based independent maker. Many of her contemporary designs have a subtle vintage feel, and there are ethical engagement-ring options too You’ll fall in love with one of her diamond rings in 18ct Fairtrade gold with conflict-free diamonds. arabellebrusan.com
The Rock Hound
Finally, for a bold celebration of the very concept of ethical gold mining, don’t miss east London Fairtrade-gold licensee Susi Smither’s GoldRush collection, starring irregular little nuggets of ethical gold from Sotrami, in a state which, as she puts it herself “looks like it came out of the ground.” Each piece is handmade in her Hackney studio. therockhound.com
We hope these ideas have helped to inspire you to embrace the idea of choosing only ethically-sourced jewellery. If you want to know more about the issues behind gold and silver mining, visit http://www.fairgold.org/.