“Ethical” gemstones and metals are procured without harming people, their communities, or the environment. Miners, gemstone polishers, and everyone along the supply chain should be paid fairly and have safe work conditions.
“Sustainable” gemstones and metals are procured with as little damage to the environment as possible, so our planet and everyone living on it are healthier. By fostering less harmful practices and buying recycled gemstones and metals, we can minimize negative effects like pollution and maximize positive human economic impacts.
Most Common Issues With Non-Ethical/Sustainable Jewelry
- Fueling conflict (for example with blood diamonds)
- Child labor
- Environmental destruction
- Irresponsible mercury use
- Health and safety of workers
- Gender inequality
- Economic exploitation
- Impact on communities
Health of Miners
- With artisanal mining growing by 20 percent a year in many developing countries many workers are suffering injury and death from collapsing mines.
- Gem cutting produces microscopic dust damaging to the lungs. Laborers in gem cutting facilities often work without proper ventilation or safety gear.
- Miners often process raw materials in their home, contaminating their meager water supply with mercury and cyanide and breathing in toxic dust and fumes.
- In Ghana, women and children as young as 14 have advanced stages of silicosis from grinding gold-bearing ore in their home.
The United Nations is paying more attention to all of these problems as more than 99 percent of gold mined around the world is obtained using the neurotoxin mercury. The mercury vapors travel long distances, persist in the environment, enter food sources, and bio-accumulate in animals and humans.
Symptoms which occur after inhaling mercury include:
- Memory loss
- Neuromuscular effects
- Cognitive and motor dysfunction
- Kidney failure
Safety of Miners
Since the miners are doing their own mining independently and selling to middlemen instead of working for a company, they receive no safety training and inadequate equipment.
Many of the countries in which metals and stones are found do not have strict laws governing the fair treatment of the workforce. This means that people – including children – are often forced to work in horrible conditions for little or no pay.
- It is believed, for instance, that in Mali alone, 20,000 children are forced to work for 12-15 hours a day panning for gold. It is also believed that these children are not paid for their work at the end of the day but instead go home with a bag of rocks in which they hope to find some gold.
- There are countries that do enforce laws regarding slave labor. Botswana and Namibia in Africa, for example, are two countries that work hard to banish slavery.
- It is important to source precious stones and metals from countries that fight slavery to ensure we are purchasing ethically.
- Mining usually involves heavy machinery and the movement of much of the earth, which can destroy habitats for wildlife and create poor conditions for communities living in the area.
- Other consequences of mining includes deforestation, waterway pollution chemical contamination of the soil (affecting crop production).
- The use of machinery during mining also uses a lot of energy and natural resources.
What can we do as consumers?
As consumers we should actively seek out companies who make an effort to make a difference, there’s more than the joy of wearing a beautiful thing. There’s the joy of finding and wearing a beautiful thing that fed a family, educated a child, or supported an artist. It isn’t easy, but more and more jewelry companies are doing the work of creating ethical, responsible jewelry. And as long as consumers continue to ask for it, responsible jewelry options will continue to grow.
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