Though I taught high school for over two decades, public speaking in front of adults gives me a mini panic attack. That hasn't stopped me from sharing with interested groups about considerations in Ethical Sourcing as it relates to the Jewelry and Electronics industries.
I'm passionate about these issues, so much so that I've joined the non-profit group Ethical Metalsmiths as an active board member and taken a deep dive into educating myself on these important, often depressing topics.
People are drawn to jewelry for the sparkly gemstones and rich buttery precious metals. They are so beautiful because these components come straight from the earth as mineral deposits. Mineral extraction can be problematic on a number of fronts.
Additionally, all of us have phones and computers, at the very least. In fact, I'm typing on my MacBook Pro right now! Each of these important items has conflict minerals in them. Conflict Minerals are defined (by wikipedia) as natural resources extracted in a conflict zone and sold to perpetuate the fighting. The four most commonly mined conflict minerals are Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten, and Gold (3 T's and G).
When considering a purchase of Jewelry or Electronics, here are 8 things I've learned along the way:
1 and 2 are about the truth of the matter:
1. Recognize the Sad Truth - because a retailer sells a product, there is no reason to believe it was created free of slavery, conflict minerals, and environmental destruction. Market researchers say that the number of consumers who KNOW about and CARE about slavery and conflict minerals is so small as to be trivial.
2. Forgive ourselves - We all have gems, jewelry, metal, computers, cell phones, etc which were not necessarily sustainably sourced. Let's USE THESE! It would be worse to see them wasted. However, consider starting fresh with the next purchase.
3 is about the all important search bar.
3. Do a bit of "research" before you make an electronics purchase – retailers and suppliers will care when they realize that you care. All corporate websites have a SEARCH BAR – search these terms: conflict minerals, sustainability, environment, slavery, child labor, and human rights. You’ll learn quickly who is at least trying. And, most importantly, they will see what people are searching for.
4 and 5 concern the types of questions to ask directly.
4. Ask questions directly – whether you are buying a phone, a gemstone, a piece of jewelry, a sheet of copper, a computer, or a game console, ask about the artist’s or company’s policy on conflict minerals, environmental sustainability, and human rights. They may not know the answer, but the fact you asked will not be forgotten and may very well create change.
5. If you are in the market to buy gemstones, jewelry with gems in it, or anything MADE from gemstones (healing crystals, mala beads, figurines), it is especially important to ask questions about where the gems were mined, by whom, and under what conditions. Most of the time, the person trying to sell them will not know. But, by asking the question, you are helping to educate them that the public cares. One place I highly recommend for buying ethically sourced gemstones is Columbia Gem House.
6 and 7 are looking for written policies and actual footage.
6. Move beyond questions - Verbal assurances make us feel good, but written policies are better. Ask for policies regarding origins, ethics, policies on child and slave labor, and practices for gemstones, precious metals, and electronics.
7. Ask for photos or videos - A photo is worth a thousand words. In terms of gemstone and jewelry purchases, has the artist or supplier visited the mines or the cutting/polishing factory? If so, you can better believe they have footage, and they should be willing to share.
Finally, 8 is all about precious metals, and the most important question you can ask.
8. If you are researching a fine jewelry purchase (gold or platinum), ask if the jeweler is using either SCS Certified Recycled Metal or Fairmined Metal. If the answer is "I don't know" or "No", strongly consider going elsewhere. That gold or platinum was likely mined in a way that decimated the land, its surrounding communities, and the poisoned the people who live in those communities with toxic mercury and cyanide.
If your organization would like to learn more, let me know! Perhaps I can set you up with a speaker or visit you myself. I'll be sure to shake off the pre-speech jitters.