Fair Trade Jewelry: A More Ethical and Sustainable Choice

Fair Trade

Jewelry – an investment, a luxury, a treat. However, if we’re not careful about where we buy our jewelry from, it can also be an ethical and environmental disaster. Many precious metal or diamond mines have a massive negative impact on the environment and the lives of the people working in the mine or living in its proximity.
Fair trade jewelry promises a solution to that, an alternative that can both look wonderful and have a positive social and environmental impact, raising industry standards.

What is Fair Trade Jewelry?

Fair trade jewelry is made from materials that have been certified by the Fair trade label for upholding a series of sustainability and ethical standards set by the certifying body during the mining and manufacturing process.
The Fair trade standards encompass all the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social, and economic. In order to receive and maintain the certification, suppliers are regularly monitored on their performance in upholding these standards.
In general, the Fair trade certification ensures suppliers are paid fair prices for their product, workers are rewarded with adequate wages, the sustainability of the local region is not compromised in production or sourcing of the materials, and more. As a system, Fair trade strives to eliminate the injustices in the system towards the poor or otherwise disadvantaged.

Environmental, social and economic issues in the mining industry

checking fair trade diamonds
Gold mining is one of the dirtiest industries in the world – both environmentally and socially.
The mining process releases many dangerous chemicals, which are frequently flushed into the environment by non-Fair trade producers. These chemicals include arsenic, lead, mercury, cyanide, and more. Additionally, in the process of mining for precious metals, a lot of waste is created by the rocks surrounding them. In fact, a single gold ring can generate as much as 20 tons of waste(Solid Waste). The mining process in general endangers natural areas, as many miners won’t give a second thought to destroying a protected area for profit.

The negative impact of gold and silver mining in the social area are many. Often, indigenous communities are evicted from the lands they’ve been living in for generations, as they lack legal ownership of the area. The workers in the mines are also frequently abused and forced to work in inhumane conditions. Working conditions are often very unsafe, with workers being exposed to extreme temperatures, structurally unsafe tunnels, fires and more. Additionally, while the working conditions and pay for the men working in the mines are abysmal, women are also under threat from the industry. In local areas, these work ‘opportunities’ for men often reduce opportunities for women, who can also increasingly become victims of violence as a result of the social changes in their communities(Women).
From an economic point of view, mining practices provide a short-term boost to local economies but are more destructive than beneficial in the long run – because most countries where mining is taking place have no legislative holding mining companies accountable for the environmental and social damage they’re causing.

Fair trade Jewelry Solutions

Fair trade jewelry - gold rings
Fair trade jewelry helps solve many of these issues, as it incorporates social, environmental, and economic regulations. Metals that come from mines certified as Fair trade have to meet high standards in working conditions, health, and safety, handling chemicals, women’s rights, child labour, and protection of the environment including water sources and forests.
Miners also receive a required minimum price for the product, to prevent the driving of lower prices with illegal practices.

Fair trade jewelry: Gold and Silver

Over 300 jewellers around the globe now use gold bearing the Fairtrade mark (Gold). When buying gold jewelry, we highly recommend that you always check the jeweler’s credentials to ensure you’re truly buying Fair trade certified gold. By choosing Fair trade gold, you’re making sure you’re supporting the raising of environmental, social, and economic standards in mining.
Although Fair trade silver is not talked about as often as Fair trade gold, and the certification itself was launched later for silver, most of the standards in mining the two metals are similar, which is why it’s also important to choose Fair trade silver whenever buying silver jewelry.

Fair trade jewelry: Diamonds

At the moment, there is not a Fair trade certification for diamonds. The Conflict Free Diamonds certification does provide some sustainability benefits, but it doesn’t go as far as a Fair trade diamonds certification would.
Some sustainable jewelry brands, such as Brilliant Earth, do raise these standards above Conflict Free, but at the moment, you’ll need to search for the detailed information behind production yourself, as there’s no Fair trade diamonds certification to rely on.

Let’s Buy Some Jewelry!

When choosing jewelry, the Fair trade label can help you significantly improve your environmental, social and economic impact. Look out for the label and with products that aren’t covered by the Fair trade certification yet, always look for the same standards.
Looking to understand fair trade jewelry and ethical jewelry more? Or are you curious to learn more about fair trade?

“Gold.” Fairtrade Foundation. 05 Feb. 2021. Web. 12 Feb. 2021.
“Solid Waste.” Earthworks. 04 Oct. 2017. Web. 12 Feb. 2021.
“Women.” Earthworks. 04 Oct. 2017. Web. 12 Feb. 2021.
Author: Monica Chang
On my own ethical journey since 2010. Always happy to learn more!