Many people have heard of blood diamonds, but not everyone is aware that a lot of gold has a not-so-glittery side: irresponsible mining practices that hurt people and the environment. That's why I was glad to learn that the parent company of Sears and Kmart, along with jewelry sellers Blue Nile and Ultra, recently signed the No Dirty Gold campaign's "Golden Rules" pledge [link]. I just wonder, if Sears and Kmart can do it, why can't Neiman Marcus and Macy's?
I’d heard of blood diamonds before, but I’d never given much thought to the ethics of the wider jewelry industry
until the other day, when a friend told me about a local shop that’s working to further the cause of nonexploitative jewelry.
Lori Bonn Design, in Oakland, Calif., has spearheaded an effort to develop an industry-wide standard for ethically made jewelry called Clear Conscience. It’s a multiyear process involving lots of meetings at industry conferences, Lori Bonn co-owner Bill Gallagher told me, and it sounds like it may be a couple of years before anything final is hammered out. But it’s something to look forward to. “Consumers want to know that they didn’t harm the environment or people with this pretty thing they’re wearing,” Gallagher said.
What does that harm look like, and how does it take place? One biggie is the extraction of the metals used in jewelry. You can read all about the horrors of acid leaching, air pollution, and the exploitation of indigenous peoples associated with mining on the No Dirty Gold campaign’s website. Another good source of information is Ethical Metalsmiths, which works to stimulate demand for responsibly sourced materials.
Then there are the gemstones. The Kimberly Process was designed to address concerns about blood diamonds, but it doesn’t cover other gems. “We buy from apparently honest, ethical people, but there’s a whole progression of things before the stones get to the dealers that we don’t know about, and until there’s a standard, there’s no independent way to know,” Gallagher said. He added that “there are beginning to be sources of gemstones whose path can be verified,” such as Columbia Gem House, which Lori Bonn is starting to use as a source for its offerings.
Finally, there are the working conditions of the actual jewelry makers to consider. Lori Bonn has its designs executed by facilities in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Gallagher said that when checking out possible factories to work with, “we go there to see what it looks like and smells like, and we follow our gut. We know that our workers generally can afford an above-average standard of living, and their kids are in school.”
An argument can be made that having any jewelry made outside of the first world is necessarily exploitative. Gallagher counters that it’s not so simple. “If you just
source from developed countries, you’re taking away the livelihood
potential from poor countries that are deeply dependent on this work,” he said. Furthermore, he added, “there’s a level of craft,
detail, and workmanship that’s not available on any kind of scale in
the U.S. It’s inherent in other cultures, and I think it should be
One thing is clear: momentum for responsible jewelry is building. Twenty-six companies, including Tiffany & Co. and Wal-Mart, have signed on to No Dirty Gold’s Golden Rules protocol. The Fair Trade Jewelry blog hums with news. And last year saw the creation of the Madison Dialogue, an initiative for businesses and interested parties to encourage verified sources of responsible metals and gems. Next month the Madison Dialogue will hold the Ethical Jewelry Summit in Washington, D.C. Perhaps the Clear Conscience program will gain some traction there.
It’s only a matter of time before ethical jewelry hits the mainstream. Already, retailers like Brilliant Earth are responding to demand for conflict-free diamonds and renewed metals. That’s great, but I look forward to the day when consumers can depend on a recognizable label or logo to assure us that, whether it’s a diamond engagement ring or a pair of casual earrings that we’re after, we can have a clear conscience about buying it.
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).