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Jewelry Industry – Definitions of Ethical, Fair Trade, Green, and Sustainable

Close Up Introduction by the editor.
Did you see the Dispatches programme about ‘The Real price of Gold’, on June 27th 2011? What were your thoughts?
As the editor of ‘Shirahime’, it struck me that the programme talked about things being unethical or ethical, using terms that have in the context given never been properly defined or agreed on.
It is in this context that Shirahime reposts the following text with definitions related to ‘ethical jewellery’. I believe it is crucial have the accurate terminology available, notably if issues go public such as through the Dispatches programme.
Note: The article was written in mid 2010, and the FLO Fairtrade/Fairmined gold standard has been released since – an important development!

This article, based on insights from The Madison Dialogue, has originally been published online on the blog of Bario-Neal, and is republished with permission of the author.

By: Page Neal, co-founder of Bario-Neal, an ethical jewellery based in Philadelphia, USA.

Sustainable DevelopmentThe jewellery industry still lacks clear certification standards for its materials and manufacturing methods; nonetheless, many terms exist which are used to describe responsibly sourced and manufactured jewellery. To consumers and those in the industry, the loose terms can be quite confusing. Below are working definitions of the labels commonly used.

Definition: Ethical
Ethical is a general term, currently understood by many consumers to mean products that are produced and traded in ways that avoid or lessen social, environmental, economic, cultural and/or political harm an or produce social, environmental, economic, cultural and/ or political benefits at local, national, regional, or global scales and according to the values of the actors in the supply chain, including the consumer. “Green Jewellery,” “Fair Trade Jewellery,” “Peace Jewellery,” and so on, are all terms that are now being used more and more to denote “Ethically produced Jewellery.”

Note: The term “ethical” is understood by some experts to mean compliance with all International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions. Under this definition, ethical products in the jewellery supply chain would on be expected to have been produced in ways that comply with all ILO labour conventions, including the avoidance of child labour, forced labour, gender balance, adverse health and safety conditions, among others.

Universal standards are not currently defined. Many jeweller have developed their own ethical standards for conducting first party assurance of their supply chains.

Definition: Fair Trade
FINE, the umbrella group of the four main Fair Trade networks. FLO-I, IFAT, NEWS! and EFTA, defines Fair Trade as follows: ” Fair Trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers…”

Fair Trade Jewelry is made of materials whose production and trade is certified by FLO-Cert to be Fair Trade, and/or whose manufacture is certified to be Fair Trade by a member of FINE according to fair trade standards agreed internationally through balanced and transparent multi-stakeholder process. Ideally both the materials and the manufacture should be certified as Fair Trade for the jewelry to be certified as Fair Trade.

Fair Trade Standards (for different products) are developed by Fair Trade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) through a multi-stakeholder process. The intent of the standards is to benefit small producers and workers, promote sustainable production, guarantee a fair price and an extra Fair Trade Premium. Fair Trade Standards go further than Codes of Conduct and other social labels: beside minimum requirements that producers and traders must meet, FLO expect them, through progress requirements, to continuously improve working conditions, to increase the environmental sustainability of their activities and to invest in organizational development for workers and small farmers.

Definition and Standards: Green
Green jewellery is produced under demonstrated compliance with standards that protect the environment and have been agreed internationally through balanced and transparent multi-stakeholder processes. These standards shall apply to the production of the raw materials as well as the jewellery itself.

Definition: Sustainable
The Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development can also be understood as the process of change that moves towards achieving sustainability. Sustainability can be defined as a point in time when people live in ways that do not destroy social, economic, or environmental “goods” over time or space. The fourth element of sustainability is governance, that is how decisions about the use, processing trading and re-use of products are made, to ensure fair and informed participation of all stakeholders (MMSD, 2003).

Efforts to produce ‘ethical’, ‘fair trade’, ‘green’, ‘peace’, and other ethically-labelled jewellery advance sustainable development in the communities involved in the jewellery supply chain, and those affected by it.

Sustainable Jewellery is produced in a way that demonstrably contributes to achieving the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of the localities where the product’s materials were sourced or mined and processed and where the product itself was manufactured, without undermining the sustainability of communities elsewhere.

No standards have been developed for ‘sustainable jewellery’ or jewellery materials. Where jewellers do use the term, it generally applies to jewellery made of recycled, renewable or waste materials and where principles of reduce, reuse and recycle have been incorporated into the life-cycle of the jewellery piece itself, including its fabrication, use, and disposal.

Though retailers an manufacturers in many industries many use this term today, it lacks creditability when used for jewellery comprising mined metals or stones. It is also hard to define, and impossible to verify reputational risks in the eyes of increasingly savvy consumers and environmental groups. Those groups may question unverifiable claims and accuse the retailer of “greenwashing.”

For companies that want to distinguish their mined products on the basis of superior ethical, social or environmental performance, it is preferable to adopt a specific, recognized label with well-defined, broadly accepted standards that can be independently verified. It is however appropriate to talk about a company’s overarching commitment to sustainable development as the rationale or as a guiding factor.

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