The jewelry industry enjoys a high profile worldwide, yet is often critiqued for the way their business is conducted down the supply chain, particularly now with the growing expectancy that firms should become socially responsible and address the influence of institutional forces.
Who is responsible?
“Every individual company who is in some way responsible for the manufacture of a piece of jewelry... from the miner... to the jewelry designer depends upon the work and integrity of those who came before them... and after them in the supply chain.” Gaetano Cavalieri, President CIBJO
Why responsible for jewelry?
Consumers cannot research the responsibility issues linked to every product they buy. We assume that ‘luxuries’ are not produced under harmful working and environmental conditions. The industry needs to help consumers think about and act on the social, environmental and economic impact of their jewelry choices.
Challenges of Creating Responsible Jewelry
The concept of producing environmentally and socially responsible jewelry is hardly new, but it seems to be hitting mainstream channels with greater frequency. Increasingly there are more and more sustainable jewelry brands to buy.
Challenges Begin with the Raw Materials
Fine jewelry is made with at least one product – a precious metal, gemstones or diamonds – that started in the earth. Does this mean that jewelry cannot ever be sustainable? Not, but it does take more effort than one might expect.
The most basic aspect of ethical production, supply chain transparency, is one of the most difficult to achieve. Metals and minerals come out of the poorest regions on earth and pass through multiple hands on their way to market, most without any traceability.
Despite that, stop suing mined materials to make jewelry is not the solution.
At least 100 million people – workers and families— worldwide are involved in artisanal mining, the types of mines often producing precious metals and gemstones. –The World Bank, 2017
So the goal is to help them mine safely and make sure that enough mining revenue remains with them so they can invest in the clean water, schools, and other services communities need.
But the challenge of tracing those materials remains. On 2018 IBM has introduced blockchain technology to verify the jewelry supply chain, and DeBeers is using blockchain to trace the diamond supply.
Challenges Beyond the Mining
One aspect of jewelry production most consumers don’t consider is gem-cutting (sometimes referred to as polishing). Gem cutting produces microscopic dust damaging to the lungs. Laborers in gem cutting facilities often work without proper ventilation or safety gear. How is a consumer to know if the person who cut their gemstone worked in one of those facilities, or a safe gem cutting facility?
When you see the word sustainable used in conjunction with jewelry, be curious. Ask questions.
To achieve true sustainability in jewelry production requires a level of activism and sourcing that most jewelry producers can’t afford.
For most concerned jewelers, this process is a journey. They refer to themselves as ethical, or responsible jewelers; rarely sustainable. They try to raise the bar every day on their practices, constantly seeking new sources and new methods to improve the lives of others while protecting the planet.
But jewelry is more than just beautiful - it can also do good in the world.
It isn’t easy, but more and more jewelry companies are doing the work of creating ethical, responsible jewelry. And as long as consumers continue to ask for it, responsible jewelry options will continue to grow.
The Fine Jewellery Industry: Corporate Responsibility Challenges and Institutional Forces Facing SMEs
Marylyn Carrigan-Morven Mceachern-Caroline Moraes-Carmela Bosangit - Journal of Business Ethics - 2016
The Challenge Of Creating Responsible Jewelry Andrea Hill - Forbes
Professor Marylyn Carrigan. (n.d.). Corporate Social Responsibility and the Jewellery Industry [http://www.jewellerylondon.com/__novadocuments/60554?v=635454386237900000]