Talking Fair Trade at the Jewelry Industry Summit LA

Fall seems to be all about ethical sourcing and sustainability at Enji with the Jewelry Industry Summit in Los Angeles this past week and Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference coming up at the end of the month. Speakers, Cristina Villegas from PACT (the largest non-profit you’ve never heard of), Monica Stephenson from Anza Gems, and Stuart Grice of Hoover and Strong (one of the largest precious metal refiners in the country) spoke about various parts of the mining sector for gold and precious gems around the world.

When ethical sourcing is mentioned, a lot of people jump to blood diamonds and Leonardo DiCaprio, but really this image is not typical of the issues in the supply chain. Stuart spoke about his case studies on unregulated gold mining and fairmined gold mining in Peru and Columbia. While miners in that part of the world face some similar issues, in terms of how remote the mines are and how that impacts their access to even basic resources like running water. Can you imagine having to bring water up from the coast to remote mines in the Andes Mountain, a terrain that is very desert-like. Unregulated gold mining, with its lack of resources, safety equipment, and often times with the use of deadly chemicals like mercury, often end one way, with the death of the miners. Through forming co-ops, reinvesting in their equipment and processes, the now Fairmined certified Macdesa and Sotrami mines, have mercury free and environmentally friendly extraction process, roads, cell phone towers, and a medical center that serves the miners and their families.

Christina and Monica presented more on the gemstone mining side of the supply chain. Through work they have done with women miners in Tanzania and Kenya, the miners have become more educated on the stones they are mining and are building up their communities. Through a partnership with PACT, the Tanzanian Women Miners Association, and ANZA gems, they are building a blockchain system to trace these gems from mine to market. The traceability wouldn’t stop when the gem is cut, and the local gem cutting infrastructure of Tanzania is growing. Monica’s advice in her presentation, be a pain in the ass! Ask your jeweler, or if you’re in the trade, your suppliers where their stones came from. The more people ask the more the industry will have to answer.

Personally, I can’t wait to create pieces with these traceable, magical East African gems.