From Mines, With Love: the Journey of an Ethical Wedding Ring

How does the sparkling ring that ends up on your finger at the altar first start its life? With all the talk of blood diamonds, environmental damage caused by the global mining industry and certification uncertainties, the time is ripe to shed light on the journey of an ethical wedding ring.

The mining mystery

Jewellery uses elements that are generally mined, which throws up many ethical issues. Firstly, mines only have a limited lifespan; big players in the mining industry, in order to receive a maximum yield, are likely to extract precious metals and gems using severe chemical nasties such as cyanide, mercury and even arsenic.

Many of these mines exist in countries that do not have stringent health, safety and environmental standards, which can cause havoc to both the land and the local community, as well the labour force.  For example, in 2000, a Romanian mine caused one of Europe’s worst fish kills during a cyanide spill that contaminated the local waters.

What’s in a gem?

Gemstones have had a horrible history in the media, made most famous with the movie Blood Diamond, which looked at the issue of rough diamonds that finance rebel movements against legitimate governments, most notoriously in developing countries in Africa.

Physical traceability is the biggest issue for jewellers looking for a suitable gemstone for ethical wedding rings.  Despite the failure of the Kimberley Process, which was the initiative of governments and the industry to prevent conflict diamonds from reaching market, non-conflict diamonds are available.

Yet it’s not just diamonds that raise an ethical eyebrow for considerate consumers – sapphires, rubies, topaz and quartz also bring issues.  Some gemstones use toxic chemicals not only during the extraction process but also to further bring out the vitality in the colours.

Before you decide against a gem-encrusted wedding ring due to your ethical values, know that better, considerate options exist.

Ethical jewellers work with artisanal miners in rural communities, who are often set up in a cooperative system. A good ethical jeweller will have researched and dug out gemstones from kinder mines that do not use chemical extraction, ensuring the local community has a sustainable future. After the mine is exhausted land can be restored to adopt farming of high-value items in the local and international market.

Gold: the good stuff

Gold is one of the planet’s most precious metals and has been since the time of the Egyptians.  To mine gold requires a lot of energy and labour.  The use of cheap and child labour is dominant in the industry, from the mining to the cutting workshops. Again, whilst the norm is to extract gold chemically, this can lead to giant pits that become a mosquito breeding ground, throwing up all sorts of health issues.

Again, there is a better way. With the launch of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold by the UK’s Fairtrade Foundation in 2011, gold production from a handful of small-scale, artisanal miners are now independently audited and certified. This certification ensures that proper systems and processes are in place to ensure that the environment is not damaged during the extraction process. Improved health and safety standards and the prevention of child labour in these cooperative communities are exemplary models for the mainstream mining industry.

Another major benefit of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold is that there is a fixed minimum price for the gold that they sell, as well as an additional premium that can re-invested back into the area, depending on the requirements of the community. Schools, health centres and subsidized electricity are just some of the benefits that come from this premium.

When you consider purchasing that once-in-a-lifetime wedding ring, be sure to contact an ethical jeweller.

Author of the Green Guide for Weddings, Jen Marsden is an eco writer and consultant who is passionate about highlighting ethical jewellers like Ingle & Rhode.

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