Human and environmental exploitation in the jewellery industry
Getting engaged and getting married are among the most romantic moments in our lives. However, many people are unaware that the creation of beautiful engagement rings and wedding rings can be associated with human rights abuses and environmental damage.
When it comes to engagement rings, diamonds are particularly problematic. 'Blood' diamonds are mined in war-torn countries where the diamond trade funds conflict. Here, diamonds signify worker exploitation and atrocious human rights abuses rather than romance and commitment. Diamond miners are some of the poorest people on the planet and work in hazardous conditions.
Not only this, but diamond mining has taken a significant toll on the environment across Africa and other parts of the world. In Angola, mining has led to deforestation, soil erosion, and the relocation of local people. Elsewhere, wildlife has vanished, mines have been abandoned, and the landscape is now desolate after years of irresponsible exploitation.
Not to mention the metal band itself, with poorly sourced gold seeing one ring generate as much as 20 tonnes of waste. Other precious metals aren't far behind.
So, here are four key questions that those getting engaged or married should ask their jewellers if they're to ensure their rings have been made to the highest ethical standard:
1. Where did my diamond or gemstone originate from?
Many jewellers will tell you that their diamonds are "Kimberley-certified" and are therefore conflict-free - but this is not enough. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was introduced in 2002 in an attempt to eliminate the trade in conflict diamonds; however, diamonds produced in conflict zones are still being smuggled to KPCS regions to be certified. The problem is, therefore, far from eradicated, and blood diamonds from places like eastern DRC and Zimbabwe are still on the market.
Moreover, Russia produces about 1 in 3 of the world's mined diamonds, and these remain Kimberley-certified as conflict-free. Russian diamonds continue to be sold legally within Europe and the UK to unwitting consumers, despite these helping to fund Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
If your jeweller cannot trace a precious stone back to its source, you cannot be sure that it is conflict-free. Kimberley Process Certification is not enough.
Ingle & Rhode's natural diamonds come only from the Ekati and Diavik mines in Canada and are mined, cut and polished with due care for the environment and human rights. Many of the larger stones are even engraved. Our Canadian diamonds are all traceable and 100% conflict-free. We also offer a large selection of lab grown diamonds.
2. Where was my diamond or gemstone cut and polished?
Many conflict-free diamonds and gems are still cut and polished in sweatshop conditions, often by children, for well below the minimum wage.
Make sure your jeweller knows your stone's source so that you can be sure it has been cut and polished by adults for fair pay and conditions.
3. Is the precious metal Fairtrade or recycled?
Ask your jeweller if they offer either recycled or certified Fairtrade gold. Workers in certified Fairtrade gold mines receive a guaranteed Fairtrade minimum price for their gold and a premium to spend on improving their businesses or community projects, such as education, clean water and healthcare.
If you're looking for a platinum ring, there is no Fairtrade platinum available, so you should ask your jeweller if they can offer recycled platinum. Recycled platinum is indistinguishable from new metal but significantly reduces demand on mines, thereby lessening the impact of unethical mining practices.
4. Where was my ring made?
Most of the jewellery bought in the UK has been manufactured in Asia. There is nothing inherently unethical about this, but there are serious concerns about working conditions and pay at some manufacturers. Your jeweller should be able to tell you exactly where your jewellery was made and be able to provide reassurance that everybody involved in its production has good pay and conditions.