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New UK guidelines set to boost ethical sourcing of jewellery

The recommendations from the British government are to make retailers and producers aware of human rights abuses that take place in their supply chains. 

LONDON: New guidelines in the UK are set to help boost ethical sourcing of jewellery. The recommendations from the government are to make retailers and producers aware of human rights abuses that take place in their supply chains.

Gold, diamonds and other precious stones and metals are often sourced from areas in Africa and South America where labourers face appalling working conditions.

At a jeweller’s in central London, Tony is working on a platinum ring designed to mark the 25th anniversary of his jewellery company Cox + Power - but that is not the only thing special about the platinum being used. The precious metal has a Fairtrade certification, which means those who mine it are paid a fair price and are given a premium to re-invest in their community, which is becoming increasingly important for consumers in the UK.

Rachel Sweeney, co-owner of Cox + Power, said: "I think there is much more awareness of ethics and fair trade in all fields - food, fashion, jewellery - and people are aware of conflict issues relating to diamonds as well."

Many of the products that end up in luxury jewellery stores have horrific stories behind them. Artisanal gold, platinum and silver miners work long hours in difficult conditions and often put their lives at risk to make a living. The Jewellery Ethics committee has worked to ensure producers in the UK are aware of possible abuses that take place in the mining of the products they buy.

The British government will produce recommendations to provide practical advice on how jewellery manufacturers in the UK can resolve issues in their supply chains. The guidelines are also expected to help businesses like Cox + Power demonstrate their ethical credentials.

Vivien Johnston, chairman of Jewellery Ethics Committee, said: "While there are a number of companies in the UK that have been (issued) Fairtrade licences, they are not necessarily so visible, and this will make it more visible to the consumer so they know what questions to ask and what assurances they can have."

The move by the British government has been welcomed by Fairtrade International, which has been working since 2011 for more ethical production of products such as gold, silver and platinum in places in East Africa such as Uganda and Tanzania.

But Amy Ross, Gold Project Manager for Fairtrade International, said more also needs to be done by big mining companies and governments in places like Africa. “The UK government could also use its position to put pressure on the governments of those countries to pay attention to artisanal miners and ensure that their conditions are improving and they are not left out in the cold where they are forced to sell on the black market and forced to sell in dangerous conditions,” she said.

The gold industry is a major contributor to many East African economies, but fairly traded gold still only makes up a small fraction.

The hope is that the recommendations by the UK government will go some way to increasing this, helping ensure a brighter future for some of the hundreds of thousands employed in the industry in Africa.  

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