What we mean by ‘ethical’ jewellery
In simple terms, ‘ethical’ jewellery for us is jewellery that has been handmade in Australia with recycled precious metals and Fair Made or Fair Trade Diamonds and gemstones. Wherever possible, we source Australian Diamonds and Gemstones – to reduce our carbon miles and to support the local economy.
We do not work with material that has been sourced from a conflict area or processed by an exploited workforce – no sweatshops, no child labour. As we primarily make engagement, wedding and commitment rings, it is important to us that such symbols of love do not have any harm attached to them.
- Precious metals: All of our rings are made with recycled precious metals. The recycled metal we use in making rings & ingots for ‘The Promised Ring’ are sourced only from environmentally responsible metal refiners.
- Diamonds and coloured Gemstones: Wherever possible we offer Australian Diamonds and coloured gemstones. All of the Diamonds and gemstones we offer in our rings and Promised Ring packs must be sourced from non-conflict regions, fair made or fair trade suppliers.
- We do not supply any gemstones or diamonds that have been cut or processed in any way by child (or otherwise exploited) labour.
- We will only use genuine gemstones. (with the exception of Moissanite, which we supply if requested).
- We do not use irradiated gemstones or stones enhanced with beryllium or any other toxic or non-permanent treatments. Many stones are treated with radiation or beryllium to improve or change their colour. We don’t support any processes that put people’s lives unnecessarily at risk.
- Our jewellery is Australian made and it is made to last.We work with three exceptionally talented Australian bespoke jewellers to make sure our jewellery is not only beautiful, it’s able to cope with the rigors of everyday life.
- We do not cast our jewellery, all of our rings are made by hand in Australia. The only prefabricated parts we use are some earring and cufflink components which are purchased from suppliers who use recycled metals.
The problem with gold mining
The gold needed to make one ring is acquired by the displacement of around 20 tonnes of earth; this is then extracted using toxic chemicals. The jewellery industry uses more than 60% of all newly mined gold.
However, there is a stockpile in the form of old and broken jewellery, jewellers’ scraps, obsolete computer and mobile phone hardware etc. that could serve our needs for the next 50 years or so.
Because of this, we feel that the jewellery industry has a responsibility to utilise these existing resources and to do so in such a way that does not further damage the environment. Along with many leading retailers overseas, we have signed Oxfam’s ‘no dirty gold’ pledge and are actively involved with groups pushing for a more ethical jewellery industry.
The facts about mining
Gold & Silver
Mining is a dirty business in anyone’s language, but Gold & silver mining is particularly so – using processes that are very damaging to the environment.
Cyanide and heavy metal (especially mercury) poisoning of mine sites is a by-product of conventional leach mining practises and damage to the local ecology is common place thanks to workplace accidents — some of the most notorious incidents include the Baia Mare spill in northern Romania in 2000 that polluted the Danube and Tsiza rivers, Placer Dome’s Misima mine in Papua New Guinea that, in 2004, spilled cyanide into the ocean killing local marine life and the Kalgoorlie Gold Mine spillage into local groundwater in 2004.
To economically extract ever-decreasing supplies of raw Gold & silver, mining companies use a process called leach mining. This basically involves saturating ground-up rock with cyanide. Heavy metals, like Gold & silver, attach to the cyanide solution and can later be separated.
And whilst most responsible mining companies go to considerable efforts to prevent environmental damage, inevitably accidents happen. Sadly there is a very long list of accidents relating to cyanide spillages, failures of tailings dams and other industrial accidents.
Importantly, cyanide is only part of the problem. Industry supporters will quickly point out that cyanide biodegrades very quickly, but it’s the other heavy metals (like lead and mercury) trapped in the tailings and slurries that cause lasting damage. Add that to the fact that a lot of the world’s remaining Gold & silver deposits are located in ecologically sensitive areas and you have a recipe for disaster.
It also seems that economic status and legislative controls make little difference to where the damage happens. Serious accidents have been reported in several locations in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Romania, Hungary, China, Ghana, The Republic of Congo, Papua New Guinea and many others.
The problem is so significant that Oxfam America and EARTHWORKS launched their No Dirty Gold campaign in 2004 — its purpose being to educate retailers and the general public about the true social and environmental cost of gold.
In Australia, the concept of ‘dirty gold’ is almost unheard of — and it seems even on a global scale, ‘dirty silver’ doesn’t even rate a mention (even though it’s produced using essentially the same cyanide leaching process used in gold mining).
Most platinum comes from South Africa, the United States, Russia, South America and Canada, with South Africa and Russia producing some 60% of the total. (It’s estimated that 90% of the world’s remaining supplies are in South Africa.)
Like Gold & silver, platinum is a dwindling resource — and is even more difficult to recover (hence its higher price). It’s actually more plentiful in the Earth’s crust than the other two precious metals, but production volumes are only around 10% of those of Gold & around 1% of silver volumes.
There are three factors that make platinum hard to recover:
- The depth of deposits (for example, the Merensky Reef is South Africa is nearly 1.5km below ground)
- Low concentration — most platinum metals are in fine granular form, widely dispersed in the ore (on average around 2 to 3 tonnes of ore must be processed to recover enough platinum for one wedding ring); and
- Chemical bonding with other platinum group metals. Less than half of all platinum group metals mined wind up as true platinum — and it can take five times longer than gold to extract.
On the socio-political side, South Africa is the main ‘hot bed’. Some publications report widespread dislocation and oppression of local populations, including imprisonment of dissident leaders, violent quelling of protests, destruction of crops and intentional polluting of community water supplies.
On the other hand, other publications (like The Times) report a beneficial local economic boom — job creation, infrastructure development, real estate value increases and the like. Either way, unlike Gold & silver, platinum has significant uses outside of jewellery (it’s an irreplaceable component in car exhaust systems for example) — so the jewellery industry is not the major production driver.
When it comes to ‘dirty’ Gold & silver, unfortunately there is almost no public awareness of the issue in Australia. Even inside the industry, very few jewellers are aware of the damage conventional mining of Gold & silver does to the environment.
Ethical Jewellery Australia grew from the desire to do something about changing the status quo. As EJA’s position is to reduce the impact the jewellery industry has on the environment and its people, we only use recycled Gold, palladium & platinum. We source all of our metal from responsible recyclers, as we don’t want to obtain ethical metals at the expense of environmentally destructive recycling methods.
Diamonds and gemstones
When it comes to gemstones, most people are familiar with the concept of “blood diamonds”, but the problems of exploitation, cartels and unsafe work practises are not limited to the diamond industry.
Our policy is simple – no exploited labour. That means no children, no sweatshops, no sub standard cutting factories.
We can’t do much about the fact that diamonds come from big holes in the ground, but we can ensure that no one is harmed by their removal or processing.
Quite apart from the corruption and unethical practises rife in the international gem trade, several of the processes used to enhance gemstones are also very damaging to the health of the people applying the processes — particularly in emerging countries.
Irradiation of gems carries a significant health risk to operators as does treatment with beryllium (a carcinogen).
Gladly there is growing awareness about the negative issues associated with the diamond and gem trade and more and more consumers and jewellers are actively preferring non-conflict stones (though far fewer people are aware of the issues associated with irradiation and beryllium treatment).
The issues surrounding the production of diamonds, gemstones and organics are every bit as complex as those associated with precious metal production.
In the diamond trade, most of us are at least somewhat aware of the issues relating to human rights abuses and cartels — whether that be in a country torn by civil war or one where the population is oppressed by corrupt and exploitative governments and powerful enterprises.
When it comes to gemstones, there are literally dozens of types of precious stones in common use sourced from around the world. Like the diamond trade, gems are every bit as subject to exploitation and corruption, though the incidence of fraud (through production of synthetics and treatment of stones) is more prevalent.
At EJA our policy is to only use gems from suppliers where we can verify the source. Likewise we avoid treated stones. Importantly, our ‘genuine article’ and no-conflict stance doesn’t mean we don’t support emerging nations where the governments and/or mining companies aren’t serious about supporting local mining communities.