Fairtade Q&A: Ute Decker

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Why student jewellers need to be given better Fairtrade information.

Professional Jeweller’s March 2013 issue takes an in-depth look at the development of Fairtrade Fairmined gold in the UK, from client demand through to supply chain issues, pricing and marketing. Sculptural jeweller Ute Decker is known for her use of recycled and Fairtrade metals. She offers her views on the cost of FTFM, the awareness among student jewellers and the universities failing to give them enough information.

Professional Jeweller: How big a demand does your business have for Fairtrade Fairmined products?
Ute Decker: Most of my work is still in recycled silver for the simple reason that for the kind of large sculptural pieces I do silver is ideal. Silver allows me to create large pieces which in gold would be too heavy and exorbitantly expensive. Nevertheless I have been steadily creating and selling pieces in Fairtrade Ecological gold since the launch in 2011.

PJ: Are you likely to start working in FTFM silver and platinum, now that they’re certified in the UK?
UD: I have already put my name down for a kilo or two and I am looking forward to switching to Fairtrade silver as soon as there will be enough for the cost of fabricating sheet and wire to become feasible.

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PJ: Does your average consumer have an awareness of Fairtrade or what is means to be an ethical jeweller?

UD: The average consumer has a high awareness of Fairtrade, however few are aware of Fairtrade gold, even though this is changing steadily. Customers fall in love with a piece primarily on its aesthetic appeal, ethical considerations are for most of my customers a welcome bonus making the piece even more special but they are never the primary reason for a purchase. Because Fairtrade is the ‘gold standard’ I do not offer conventional or recycled gold and my customers seem happy with that.

PJ: As a designer, what kind of issues have you faced in the Fairtrade supply chain or during manufacture?
UD: There is plenty of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold available but relatively little Fairtrade and Fairmined Ecological gold from Oro Verde. As I do very little casting, for me the main challenge with Fairtrade Ecological gold (and it will be the same for Fairtrade silver) is the cost of fabricating sheet and wire. I can absorb the additional premium of 15% for Fairtrade Ecological gold however the extra fabrication cost is a challenge. Fairtrade findings especially chain would be a welcome addition. There is by now a good selection of reputable diamond and gemstone suppliers working to high ethical standards and offering a transparent and traceable supply chain – I share links to these suppliers on my website.

PJ: What do you think needs to happen in the UK, or globally, to increase demand and awareness of Fairtrade and ethical practises when it comes to precious metals?
UD: If we had the money for high-profile advertising campaigns, Fairtrade gold would soon be on everybody’s wish list. But Fairtrade does not have the financial power as, for example, De Beers who made the diamond “a girl’s best friend”. Who wanted or needed the iPhone before it was invented? But once it came to the stores we all wanted it. I believe it is up to us jewellers to offer customers the choice and especially to explain the concept and importance of being part of this change. The Dodd-Frank act in the US plus proof of concept by Fairtrade have had a major impact on industry initiatives (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Responsible Jewellery Council, World Gold Council), but we have yet to see how genuine and effective these initiatives will be.

Even Fairtrade recently tried to dilute the standards – which resulted in an outcry by ethical jewellers. Just as there should be no horse meat in beef lasagne, there should be no human rights violations and environmental degradation in our engagement rings – to this end strict legislation, enforcement and penalties are required to clean up the industry from the bottom up. Judging by the amount of enquiries I receive from students there is a keen interest in ethical practices by the next generation, yet still woefully little information is offered by universities. The NAG and BJA have jointly published education material contained in the Red & Green book available on their websites.
 

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