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Soapbox & Opinions

The race towards an ethical future

To put it bluntly, the Australian jewellery industry isn’t playing catch-up when it comes to ethics. The truth is, we’ve barely left the starting line – and we really need to pick up the pace.

As an advocate for improving the ethical performance of the jewellery industry, I spend a lot of time researching what’s going on in jewellery-related supply chains.

This means I keep an eye on what’s happening in the precious metals sector – small- and large-scale mining and recycling – and the evolution of the lab-created diamond industry and its impacts on the jewellery industry. I also watch what’s going on in gemstone mining, diamond and gem cutting and biogenic materials.

Undeniably, there’s a steady shift towards greater transparency and responsibility in the jewellery trade. Not only in wealthy countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas, but also in many developing nations such as Tanzania, Colombia, Nigeria and Ghana.

In my experience, Australian industry professionals remain conspicuously absent when it comes to participating in that dialogue at an international level. It feels like we’re in some quiet little backwater and the rest of the world is passing us by.

And nowhere is this more apparent than when you examine our local retail jewellery and bespoke manufacturing sectors. Apart from a very small number of jewellery business operators – such as Megan Webb, Zoë Pook, Utopian Creations and a handful of others, including the company I co-founded, Ethical Jewellery Australia, the subjects of responsible sourcing and ethics rarely get a mention in mainstream media.

In the words of the late physics professor Julius Sumner Miller, you might ask, “Why is it so?” In my opinion it’s simply because our customers aren’t penalising us for not being more socially and environmentally responsible – not yet, anyway.

"Of course, it’s reasonable to ask, if jewellery customers don’t care, why should we? But there’s a simple answer – and this is where I get up on my soapbox – because, people, it’s the right thing to do"

Of course, it’s reasonable to ask, if jewellery customers don’t care, why should we?

But there’s a simple answer – and this is where I get up on my soapbox – because, people, it’s the right thing to do. No more. No less.

The harsh reality is the demand for jewellery- making materials around the world fuels a lot of issues we see in the news: conflict funding, mercury pollution, habitat destruction, exploitation, child labour, greenhouse gas emissions, money laundering and all the rest.

We, as an industry, need to take responsibility for the harm we cause. Because when the tide turns here in Australia, and it will, do you really want to have to explain to your customers why you don’t care about these things? That’s assuming you even get opportunity to justify your position – more likely, they’ll just go and spend their money elsewhere.

It’s not as difficult as you may think. You can buy recycled precious metals, gemstones and diamonds. You can get Fair Trade gemstones and gold easily enough. You can source traceable diamonds, and you can buy lab-created whatever if you choose to take a position against mining.

It’s all doable. You just have to care enough to want to do it.

Not convinced? Don’t take my word for it. Just open your eyes and look around.

Look at Chopard’s commitment to ethical gold and Tiffany & Co.’s commitment to traceable sourcing and sustainability. Consider De Beers’ efforts to develop traceability technologies and the rapid evolution of blockchain in the jewellery space.

Look at the initiatives undertaken by Diamond Foundry, Lark & Berry, Spencer Diamonds, MiaDonna, Swarovski and others in the ethical jewellery space internationally. All these companies and many more have jumped on the ethical bandwagon because, at the very least, they’ve recognised the shifting mood of the market.

These are astute people – industry leaders. They’re not doing it for giggles.

The future of your business lies in the hands of Millennials and Gen Z. These generations are smack-bang in the middle of the marrying age. They’re educated, they’re open-minded and they’re buying engagement rings, wedding rings, commitment rings. They’re buying anniversary gifts, push presents and more – and they’re taking strong cues from the sustainable fashion movement.

My point is, if you haven’t been paying attention to any of this jewellery ethics ‘stuff’, you need to get on board now. Otherwise, you’ll get left behind.

Name: Benn Harvey-Walker
Company: Ethical Jewellery Australia
Position: Director
Location: Sherwood, Brisbane
Years in Industry: 12

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