Shoppers are avoiding unethical jewellery brands

Fairtrade gold miner Josephine Aguti went to the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter as part of a UK tour to meet business supporting gold miners and their families in East Africa. Aguti was joined by Fairtrade Africa’s gold project manager Gonzaga Mungai from Kenya, and Jon Walker from the UK’s Fairtrade Foundation. Together, they visited Hockley Mint and Johnsons Jewellers, discovering how Fairtrade gold is crafted into fine jewellery and sold in the UK and sharing their inspiring stories.

Consumers are increasingly shunning brands they think have the “wrong values”, new research reveals.

According to Real World Insight, two in five consumers say that they have either stopped using or never use a brand if they do not agree with their values or behaviour.

In addition, the study which set out to highlight the growing influence of the ‘ethical pound’, revealed that four in five say they want large corporations to minimise their environmental impact, while two thirds believe big companies have a responsibility to try to give back to society.

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At the recent Fair Luxury conference, representatives from Pandora, Forevermark, Gemfields and the Responsible Jewellery Council formed a panel discussion on what big influencers in the industry are doing to advance responsible sourcing and fairness in their supply chains.

When asked, ‘Should jewellery companies earning up to a certain amount be obliged to put money back into society?’ Gemfields global sustainability and risk advocate, Jack Cunningham, responded: “I would take it further than big companies, because I think many of the large ones do that these days because they are under such scrutiny and they are made so accountable. The next step to go on is to actually create that partnership all the way through the value chain as well, so that everybody can become involved in making those people’s lives better. ”

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Large companies from the jewellery industry discussing ethics at Fair Luxury.

He continued: “Part of that might be asking whether consumers are willing to pay that premium so they can then track their gold, or their diamond, or whatever it is, back to the mine so that those communities benefit. I am not disagreeing with you, I would say absolutely, but we are doing that. That is already something in motion. But it goes back to getting the consumer interested. They are the biggest partners in the whole solution in creating that holistic approach to helping these communities way up the stream. I think it’s got to be a collective thing.”

In addition to believing big brands should be acting responsible, the study by Real World Insight also found widespread cynicism about large companies, with two thirds of people revealing they felt brands overstated their environmental credentials, and almost half were sceptical of corporate claims to support good causes.

Real World Insight director, Pauline Robson, comments: “Even [brands] that do have good values at their heart face a challenge of convincing the public that they are genuine. But the fact remains that a brand’s purpose is hugely influential in attracting an audience and, ultimately, a customer base.””

Furthermore, almost half of the 2,000 respondents to the survey said they were willing to pay more for a brand that supported a cause that was important to them. This figure rises to 60% in 18-24 year-olds.

Interestingly, conversations in the jewellery industry circle around the need to make consumers more aware of ethical issues within the trade, and retailers claiming they do not have a high demand for sustainable jewellery.

This research shows the ethical pound is growing, and consumers may be more aware than the industry thought.

As Responsible Jewellery Council executive director, Andrew Bone, said at the Fair Luxury conference: “I think we need to embrace the consumer and we shouldn’t be frightened of them. I saw this very much during the Kimberly Process, people were frightened, but if you’ve got a good case you can inform that. Informing the consumer is a much better prospect for a business than the consumer who has just gone on Google and decided not to go to your shop. Because that is who you should be afraid of, the people not coming in. “

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4 Comments

  1. Sean Clinton said:

    The refusal to apply universal human rights standards along the diamond supply pipe from mine to market demonstrates that ethics is nothing more than a marketing fig leaf for the diamond jewellery industry. How can consumers trust an industry which claims diamonds that fund grievous human rights violations by government forces are conflict-free? Over one fifth of the diamonds sold every year are funding rogue regimes in Israel, Angola and Zimbabwe. Jewellery companies are quite happy to profit from with the trade in these blood diamonds despite the terrible cost in human life and suffering funded to a significant degree by revenue from diamonds. In Israel an apartheid regime guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity has developed a stockpile of unregulated nuclear weapons and yet the jewellery industry remains silent.

    • Margaret Cassar said:

      Thank you, Sean. I think it’s time for all potential buyers to ask jewelers where they source their diamonds. No one wants to wear a piece of jewellery that has benefitted Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

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