Fairtrade, Eco-Friendly and Sustainable: How to Build an Ethical Jewellery Business
We are all becoming more aware of the importance of ethical practices in our daily lives and this includes our work as a jeweller. But how can you make your jewellery business more ethical?
We have done some research to create this guide covering the main issues involved and the things you should consider when making your business more ethical.
Consumers are increasingly aware of the buying choices that they are making. The 2018 Ethical Consumer markets report states
‘Consumers are turning to more sustainable options as their concern for the environment grows. Green energy grew an impressive 56.3% in 2017. Ethical clothing increased by 19.9% and buying second-hand clothing for environmental reasons increased 22.5%, in a year which saw much media about the environmental impacts of fast fashion. Ethical Food and Drink was also up 16.3%, the largest increase since 2012, fuelled by growing sales of vegetarian products. The strength of such spending is remarkable since UK retail sales fell in 2017 for the first time since 2013 and have remained challenging since.’
What does ethical mean?
When it comes to jewellery, shoppers and makers are looking at fair and moral practices. This covers all aspects of the business including the obvious sourcing of your materials e.g. gemstones, pearls and precious metals but should also include the fair treatment of ourselves and our workers, the way we deal with chemicals in our workplace, recycling and waste management and much more.
This is particularly important for designer-makers whose products are more expensive than the mass-produced jewellery on the market. Positioning yourself as an ethical brand choice is good for business and the environment. But how do you do it?
In this guide, we have put together some resources for you to consider. It may not be possible to do everything at once but just making some steps in the right direction will help you make your business more ethical and that can only be a good thing.
One of the key ethical factors within the jewellery industry is the materials we use. When we look at gemstones, pearls, precious metals and other materials we use in our making we need to investigate:
The legality of operations e.g. of the mine it comes from
Labour - e.g. who is employed to do the mining? How safe are the mines? Who is involved in the trade?
The environmental impact - mining, by definition, is changing the landscape. Is this being done mindfully? Is the waste material being safely dealt with?
This is a lot to think about! Of course, without visiting the mine yourself or inspecting the processes that brings the materials to you it is hard to make a judgement on this.
How can I ensure I am buying ethical materials and resources?
The things you need to look out for with your suppliers are the following:
Traceability - can the company you buy from tell you where your gemstones, metal etc come from?
The supply chain
It is worth researching the companies you currently source your materials from. Ask them about their ethical practices. The more we do this as consumers the more likely these companies will choose more ethical options.
What bodies and organisations do I need to know about?
It is great to see there are organisations looking at ethical practices for us. They independently inspect mines and check against their codes of practice.
There are some links to some of these organisations to take a look at when choosing suppliers to work with at the end of this blog post.
How can we source ethical metals?
Many jewellers use every scrap of their metal which is a great way to have an ethical practice.
However, when buying new metal you may want to ensure that you get fairmined or fair trade metal.
What does fairmined mean?
Fairmined is an assurance label that certifies gold from responsible artisanal and small scale mining organizations. Thanks to the Fairmined Standard, anyone who buys gold can access responsibly mined, traceable gold and support responsibly managed community mines.
The Fairmined Standard includes requirements for mining organizations to perform responsible artisanal and small scale mining: formal and legal mining operations, environment protection, labour conditions, traceability of Fairmined premium and all this is backed by a rigorous 3rd party certification and audit system.
You can become an Ambassador for FairTrade Gold by taking a free course which will help you understand the benefits of Fairtrade Gold so that you can talk confidently to your customers. It is suitable for anyone working in the jewellery supply chain, with a particular focus on the retail environment. It is also a valuable resource for people studying jewellery design and manufacture.
Find out more about this free course here > https://ambassador.fairtrade.org.uk/
Your business operations
There is more to ethical business than just your materials. There are lots of things you can consider when developing your business. Here are a few thoughts for you:
How will you improve your operations?
There could be some really simple things you can do, for example, only driving to the post office to post products out once a week. This can help save energy, time and money.
Think about what you can do to help support others. Will you donate to charities? Help train people?
How can you improve your knowledge? Is there training you can attend? Would you like to become a FairTrade Gold Ambassador?
Materials you use in your jewellery and packaging
For example, not using animal products e.g. leather and suede
Choosing sustainable or recycled packaging for your jewellery
Think about a recycling policy for your business
Can you reuse the packaging you receive?
Can you cut down on the waste you produce?
Can you recycle your scrap metal for re-use?
Can you choose to use renewable energy?
Can you use energy more efficiently e.g. waiting until you have a full load for the kiln before using it?
Use of chemicals
Can you choose different chemicals e.g. pickle?
Create your own ethical business policy
It is worth creating an ethical or environmental impact policy for your business that you can share with your customers that covers all the issues raised here.
There is a lot to think about but any steps in the right direction are a benefit for the supply chain, for you and your customers. Do let customers know the ethical decisions you’re making for your business on your website and in your communication with them. They will be interested and some may choose your brand over another if they value ethical shopping.
Kimberley Process (worldwide)
The Kimberley Process work to reduce the ‘flow of rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments’. Although helpful, this is a narrow remit and there are more issues that affect the sale of ‘blood diamonds’. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile company to look at.
The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) (worldwide)
Their mission is to protect people and the environment directly affected by mining. They do this by creating financial value for mines independently verified to achieve best practices, and share this value with the businesses that purchase material from these mines.
Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)
The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM for its acronym in English) is a global initiative that was born in 2004 with the aim of transforming artisanal and small-scale mining (MAPE) into a socially and environmentally responsible activity that improves the quality of life of artisanal miners and their environment.
Latin America, Africa and Asia
The CIBJO diamond grading scale. The acronym stands for a very long name in French basically meaning the international agency for diamonds, jewels, silvers, stones and pearls
Jewelry Industry Summit (worldwide)
Run summits that provide interactive opportunities to learn about tools and strategies for more responsible jewelry sourcing. They also offer attendees the chance to participate in sustainability initiatives, many of which were conceived at previous Summit gatherings.
Chicago Responsible Jewellery Conference (worldwide)
The Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference (CRJC) was founded in 2017, when jewelry designer Susan Wheeler decided to bring people together from across the world to discuss how to make jewelry supply chains more transparent and make jewelry business more beneficial to all members of the industry vertical.
The CRJC's mission is to engage everyone in the jewelry industry; miners, makers, professionals, educators, and students. To address all the ways that individuals and companies can be involved in the responsible jewelry movement. To make a difference by making things happen.
The Ethical Making Resource provides practical information for jewellers and silversmiths who want to improve the environmental and social sustainability of their practice, and for buyers and collectors looking for information on purchasing ethically made jewellery and silver.
Responsible Jewellery Council (UK)
The RJC are an international independently audit their members against their code of practice.
Fair Luxury (UK)
Fair Luxury is a collaboration of jewellery industry changemakers with a vision for a responsible and sustainable future.
The pathway to responsible business is complex and challenging; Fair Luxury’s purpose is to share collective experiences and to inspire and inform other professionals to take positive steps towards a sustainable industry. They spearheaded the ‘I made your jewellery’ campaign to coincide with Fashion Revolution Week to raise awareness of more transparency in the jewellery industry.
National Association of Jewellers (UK)
The NAJ is a professional membership body representing over 2,000 companies that operate in every aspect of the jewellery industry. Every NAJ member is required to abide by the NAJ's Code of Conduct - based on honesty, integrity and professionalism.