A few months before the launch of her new identity, the Swiss watchmaking and jewellery company, Chopard, announced the new value of her gold. An ethical gold.
A first for this industry that until now, never had taken the direction of a sustainable positioning nor considered a green strategy. A strategy supported by a three minutes documentary video, relating Chopard’s values, expertise, and their deep interest for the survival of our blue planet.
To summarize the actions undertaken by Chopard, the house decided to collaborate with two ethical and international organizations: the Swiss Better Gold Association (SBGA) and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). The supply of gold is, 100% certified and more importantly, traceable. These close collaborations with responsible suppliers have enabled the jewellery and watchmaking company to achieve international environmental standards and social practices.
However, gold is not the only precious metal to undergo checks. Following the declarations of Chopard during the Cannes Film Festival to establish a tour de force on their gold and its origin, many jewellery houses have followed this initiative. De Beers, first diamond producer reported last year “today more than ever, consumers are waiting to learn more about their luxury products, the route they have taken, their authenticity, and whether they have been a positive force in the world.” declared Bruce Cleaver, CEO of De Beers, for Les Echos.
As a reminder, De Beers is a South African diamond conglomerate. Founded in 1888 to operate South African mines, the company is now active in many countries such as Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. To set the context and the importance of traceability for this house and others, we can say that today there is no platform that can trace the precious stones from a mine to mine; and especially from one country to another. This operation is slowly but surely becoming an issue for luxury houses who now, have to justify and prove the transparency of their products… to their own clients.
Although this leap of consciousness in the luxury industry occurs at a convenient time, in terms of brand image and consumer’s opinion, this action is nonetheless desirable and virtuous. Because, yes, despite my skepticism, I told myself: why should we take Chopard’s decision as a greenwashing effect, but rather take it as a step forward a more responsible industry ?
However, long before this luxury giant embarks on the “green gold” and shakes the industry in its wake by putting this new ethical responsibility on its competitors, many young brands had already blossomed and taken the aftermath of this universe, where human rights are unfortunately overlooked.
If those major players, decide to join forces for a more sustainable and responsible jewellery sector, this would allow brands that are not yet in the limelight to shine bright… like a diamond ? (pun intended). Before highlighting the young actors of this new social economy, an upgrade of the criteria established by ethical jewellery is necessary.
2018 was the result of a long time coming about responsibility and solidarity, emphasizing a new form of consumption that particularly affected the textile sector. The action taken by Galeries Lafayette by launching their campaign #GoForGood, shook the textile sphere, and even if the returns were mixed … the debate was launched.
Ethical fashion’s criteria are based on three pillars: economical aspect, respect for the environment and respect for human rights. Well, ethical jewellery is no different.
❏ Environmental responsibility – reduction of the ecological footprint – reduction of land destruction- reduction and disappearance in the use of cyanide and other chemicals that help separate precious metals
❏ Social responsibility – respect for the social and human rights of workers – non-employability of children – accessibility to well-paid and well-appointed work hours
❏ Production and distribution – responsibility in the production chain against suppliers – creation of a value chain – promote sourcing and transparency – preservation of know-how
❏ Supporting a new economy – creation of a new sector – development and support of an healthy economy – sustainable enterprises with a coherent and comprehensive approach – understanding and discovery of cultures
Indeed, investing and producing a 100% ethical jewel does not just include the materials used. For ethical brands, it is a full commitment, a set of prerequisites to check, so that everything they are creating is considered respectful of a living ecosystem. Although this trade remains a niche market and still fails to escape the opacity logic that supports the jewellery industry, young artists have decided to take a closer look at what materials touch our skins…
“I estimate that about ⅔ of you are wearing some kind of jewellery. Can you please take a look at it ? Do you know where it came from ? And even more, those materials with which your necklace is made, came from ?” Silence in the audience.
It happened four years ago, when the designer Arabel Lebrusan walked up the stage in Bedford, during a TedxTalks convention. Acclaimed by the press and the actors of her sector, she is one of the first creators to take environmental and social issues into consideration. Her brand and ethical vision are in synergy. In 2011, she acquires the UK’s very first Fairtrade Gold Licence, making a point of honor to make her jewelry from traceable materials.
SOKO – When technology improves social and working conditions
Gwendolyn Floyd, Ella Peinovich and Catherine Mahugu met and founded Soko in Nairobi, Kenya. Now based in San Francisco, the ethical jewellery brand was created in 2015. While respecting the materials, their extractions and the mine workers, the creators had the ingenuity to develop a technological system called “the virtual factory“.
The brand informs: “artisan craft industry is the second largest employer in the developing world“. With the help of their mobile phone, the 2300 artisans who collaborate with the brand can sell their products online and be put directly in contact with customers or prospects, analyze the impact of their sale, while being accompanied by the brand Soko in their business development. “Our supply chain innovation uses the mobile phone to connect independent artisan entrepreneurs to Soko in an ethical and transparent “virtual factory”. “
It is in fact, a supply chain innovation. When the sector is exposed with serious suppliers issues, using the technology as a tool for social evolution is massive. This system allowed today to increase by 5 marginalized artisans’s income in the developing world. Following the evolution of the market (volumes, prices, quality) the “virtual factory” enable artisans to compete on the mainstream consumer market.
The operation has so far yielded an estimated income of $ 1 million. This solidarity and economic commitment allows artisans to get out of poverty and work in proper working conditions.
Pippa Small – When cultures meet social respect
Carving her own unique path in the industry, Pippa Small is recognized in the community for her commitment and ethical creation. Rewarded many times for her work, her showcase and brand highlight the craftsmen who create Pippa Small jewelry, day after day. The site features a series of portraits of jewellery artists from around the world. Burma, Panama, Afghanistan and Bolivia, each craftsman brings his cultural know-how in the outcome of these jewels.
In 2009, the designer went to Bolivia to work with the artisanal gold mine Cotopata. This mine was the first in the world to be certified “Fair Trade Gold Mine” in 2011. Javier is one of the craftsmen who has been working for eight years now with Pippa Small. Through his testimony, he describes the working conditions at the mines, the collapses (under which he found himself stuck twice), the offerings at the entrance of the mines in the hope of emerging alive.
This certification has allowed a revolutionary impact, both on a social level and for the working conditions of miners “[they] no longer use cyanide, arsenic and from now on recycle the mercury instead of throwing it into the river where it would poison everything in its path. It also demands certain standards for the health and safety of the miners and a premium is paid over the cost of the Gold, which will go in to community-based projects such as health and education initiatives.”
There is nothing comparable to gold or precious metals. It is pure wealth, a sign of love and excess. A natural good, prized and coveted, turned into a global business. For gold diggers and professionals in this business, finding a nugget is a crazy bet, a Russian roulette game at the casino, filled with both environmental and social risks.
To put the situation in context, despite the different issues that jewellery and the mining sector represent, I was particularly interested through this article in the social and human aspects of this industry. As for some of us, luxury is not defined by money, fame, diamonds, or all externalities which can came from that definition. For some of us, luxury is a necessity. Proper working conditions, a living wage, social insurance, security and moreover, respect for human rights.
My studies have often led me to be in touch with brands with an environmental vision of their business: stones’s origin, traceability, waste reduction … but only a few of them address the burning topic of social impact. Digging my own way through my research, I have often stumble onto the “Fairmined label”. Open to all market players, the Fairmined label is a certification process in the gold sector introduced in the 2000s by Fairtrade Labeling Organizations.
So, a long time before the collective and responsible consciousness, the Fairmined label already emerged, creating this impressive initiative for both buyers and consumers, but more importantly for mine workers. Based on four spectrums, Fairmined guaranteed through its traceability and insurance: environmental protection, organizational development, work conditions’ evolution and last but not least, social development. The label unveils the working conditions of miners and promotes responsible artisanal mining. No child labor, gender equality, promoting wellbeing in community, stable jobs for miners and providing an healthy and safe working environment, Fairmined label has now conquered Europe, United-States and Asia.
Under the world pressure, other initiatives were born. Kimberley process, set up by De Beers and adopted by other major mining groups, ensures that diamonds and precious metals do not come from conflict zones. Furthermore, to reduce the ecological and social impact of this industry, the brand Innocent Stone has transformed the diamond market using technological positive setbacks. Innocent Stone diamonds are manufactured in laboratories. They are identical to natural diamonds, but unlike them, their research and manufacture do not endanger an ecosystem. Their innovation is a huge step towards a more responsible future and has almost become a label.
The question I am askingisis: why are we only hearing now about this innovative ways of producing and thinking in that sector? Even though, some medias and newspapers gave the lead in a more responsible jewellery sector, the decision taken by Chopard was more covered than any other ethical jewellery brand environmental and social’s decision.
But choosing an ethical direction is a double-edged game. For a consumer, stepping in an ethical market is a contract, a commitment over time. This one evolves with his era, becoming a leading and committed actor who reaches through social media to be heard and his opinion accepts by companies. The consumer becomes a “consom’actor” and takes advantage of his power to change the way of thinking.
After all, are we the trigger of this domino effect?