Great Debate highlights vulnerability of workers

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Cred, Monsoon, RJC and BAO take part in annual ethical debate at IJL.

The seventh Great Debate took place at International Jewellery London (IJL) last week, focused on sustainability and ethical and social issues within the jewellery industry.

The debate, a hotly anticipated seminar at the annual IJL show, welcomed guest speakers including Cred director Alan Frampton and Monsoon Accessorise trading manager Daniela Nordmeyer.

The discussion centred on translating sustainability for the jewellery industry, providing a thought provoking discussion between Nordmeyer, Frampton, the Responsible Jewellery Council’s Catherine Sproule and Birmingham Assay Office assay master and chief executive Michael Allchin.

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Nordmeyer, an established practitioner with hands on experience of ethical trading issues in the fashion industry, gave insight into the ways in which large fashion companies implement the principles of the industry’s Ethical Trading Initiative and strive to ensure that every element of their long supply chain complies with the code.

She highlighted the challenges arising from the limited but specific skills of some of the communities hand-making fashion jewellery products such as wooden and bead items and the difficulties in encouraging such people to continually create new designs to feed the developed world’s appetite for fashion trends. Nordmeyer also explained the amount of work that went into establishing a fair piece rate for such workers, particularly vulnerable homeworkers, and other challenges faced by the fashion jewellery industry.

Alan Frampton has a long a career in the production of fresh fruit and flowers in several different countries. He used examples of Kenya and Egypt as countries where long-established farms have their own schools, health centres and sports facilities, and career progression opportunities for their workers.

By contrast, Frampton illustrated conditions in the rudimentary alluvial gold mines of Sierra Leone, explaining how those carrying out gruelling digging and panning for gold are surviving on very little while their controllers make a significant amount of money. He contrasted this with the mines in Peru which comply with the recently introduced Fairtrade Gold accreditation which is beginning to gradually improve conditions for these workers.

Summing up this year’s Great Debate, the discussion’s chairman Michael Allchin confirmed the message delivered by both Frampton and Nordmeyer. He commented on the parallels between the industries, particularly the similar vulnerability of the jewellery homeworkers and the alluvial and Peruvian miners who work in small family or community groups, dependent upon one sole source of employment and therefore survival.

Allchin said: "Other industries evidently have many of the same issues and have done much more to address them than the gold and diamond industry has over the past 20 years. However, it is reassuring to know that we are all on the same journey. It is not a race and although there is no finishing line as there will always be more that can be done, the jewellery industry is now making big strides in the right direction. This is particularly evident [last week] with the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding between CIBJO and RJC, uniting these two global industry bodies in their fight to improve standards".
 

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