By: Jonathan González, Market Development Specialist at the Alliance for Responsible Mining
I’ve been thinking a lot about how the lockdown changed my shopping habits. I went through that experience of staying home, working from my bed, and doing most of my shopping online. I ended up buying shoes, shirts, rings, necklaces, and bracelets that I didn’t even wear until I got tired of my pyjamas. An interesting realization came to my mind: most of my purchases were from national or local brands owned by young entrepreneurs or families trying to keep their business going and their living conditions stable.
The last year was hard for all of us, which triggered me to care and to choose locally made goods that tell me a positive story about the people behind the brand, the materials they use or show me their actual purpose besides just selling me something. I’m not the only one, since there is certainly a growing trend in which consumers, mainly the younger generations, are becoming aware of the potential impact of their shopping decisions. For example, 67% of european fashion consumers consider sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor, and 63% consider a brand’s promotion of sustainability in the same way, according to a study by the renowned consultancy firm McKinsey & Company.
That study concluded that “while the fashion industry is reorganizing for the next normal after the COVID-19 crisis, European consumers have become even more engaged in sustainability topics.” This important and more frequent buzzword in fashion immediately makes us think about the environment, but also the impact on society and the economy. COVID-19 drew our attention even more to the human factor and how companies take care of their employees as well as the workers further down in the supply chains. We are not only looking to be sustainable but also ethical towards others.
Towards a more conscious jewelry industry
The jewelry industry is no stranger to the trend. As we see reports, documentaries and initiatives like Fashion Revolution raising awareness about the issues of fast fashion, jewellery brands are being held accountable for their precious metals and gem sourcing practices, and for its impact on the environment and the communities involved. Also, as the brands become more transparent about what and how they source, they gain recognition by the consumers and industry experts. An interesting example is last year’s Human Rights Watch report Sparkling Jewels, Opaque Supply Chains which analyzes big players in the industry and how responsible they are with their sourcing strategies, while explaining the issues that mining communities face in developing countries. One of the main conclusions of the report was that jewelry brands in general are still reluctant to be completely transparent about their supply chains.
According to HRW, the pandemic had ‘devastating’ effects on the mining sector, especially artisanal and small-scale mining: “Where mining has been suspended, mine workers and their families have lost their income. Where mining has continued, workers and affected communities have been exposed to increased risks to their human rights. In some small-scale mining areas, child labor has risen.” That’s why they also make a call to action to the jewelry industry to conduct human rights due diligence and ensure that they do not cause or contribute to rights abuses in their supply chains.
When jewelry consumers learn about these issues, they become willing to provide support using the power of their choices. According to a U.S. based research, commissioned by Christina T. Miller, an ethical jewelry consultant, and co-sponsored by the Alliance for Responsible Mining, when consumers learn about artisanal and small-scale mining, they are likely to spend more on products made with responsibly mined artisanal material (up to 8% more). Almost 50% of respondents between the ages of 25 and 35 would choose certified responsible gold from artisanal and small-scale mining, with ages 36-50 following close behind at 42%. This indicates that “as consumers learn more, they will demand both transparent sourcing and improved conditions for the people doing the mining”.
The ‘conditions for the people’ are precisely the point; we care about them and sometimes feel powerless to make a change, until we get educated and learn that it’s easier than we thought if we make informed choices. Consumers could be eager to choose certified gold from artisanal mines, extracted by workers wearing protective clothing and earning a fair wage, over gold with an uncertain origin that might have been extracted by a child who wasn’t even wearing a helmet. Consumers could also choose certified gold that intends to minimize its environmental impact instead of gold that was extracted by destroying forests and contaminating rivers.
It is a trend recognized by fashion experts as well; as the British Vogue pointed out, “[certified artisanal mining] is one of a growing number of positive steps being taken in the jewelry industry to improve supply chain transparency and sustainability. (…) There is a growing demand among [jewelry] consumers to be able to make ethically sound choices just as they do with the clothes they wear and the food they eat.”
The challenge for jewelry brands is very clear right now: besides making beautiful creations to delight the consumers, they need to demonstrate a positive impact while doing so. Getting involved with initiatives like Fairmined, in which brands can make trustful claims about gold from responsible origins is one of many ways of being transparent and adapting to this trend that certainly is here to stay. As consumers care about the welfare of others, jewelry brands should do the same.