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What next for Fairtrade gold?

By Jennifer Hudson   |   April 24th, 2015   |  

It has been an inspiring start to the year for ethical gold. In January the Fairtrade Foundation launched the ‘I Do’ campaign, designed to encourage couples to purchase Fairtrade gold when they buy their wedding rings. The website saw over 15,000 unique visitors and three quarters of a million people engaged with the campaign on social media.

In March, ethical jewellery pioneers CRED Jewellery received the largest ever shipment of Fairtrade gold into the UK and announced an increase in sales of Fairtrade gold jewellery. On top of this, thirty three new UK goldsmiths joined the Goldsmith’s Registration Scheme, the Fairtrade Foundation’s initiative to supply Fairtrade gold to small independent jewellers.

Consumers can now buy ethical engagement and wedding rings, bespoke jewellery and even one-of-a-kind pieces by top designers and know exactly where the gold and silver in them has come from. So what’s next for Fairtrade gold?

With such a positive beginning, it would be easy to sit back and relax, but that is precisely what jewellery designers working with Fairtrade gold are not doing.

CRED are ethical jewellery pioneers who make a lot of the Fairtrade gold jewellery sold in the UK. They played a key role in the launch of Fairtrade gold in 2011, and were the first company in the world to produce a Fairtrade gold wedding ring.

According to CEO Alan Frampton, interest in Fairtrade gold is increasing. Visits to CRED’s website have increased by 70-80 percent in the last 12 months, and they have just received a 15kg shipment of Fairtrade gold, enough to make 3750 Fairtrade gold wedding rings.

Alan is completely dedicated to Fairtrade gold:

“Fairtrade gold has added to the lives of those who mine it. It is a material that hasn’t caused suffering.”

Despite the success of CRED, Alan worries that the jewellery industry is “too traditional” and many consumers still don’t know about sustainability. Last autumn, CRED commissioned market research that found only three percent of consumers know about Fairtrade gold, compared to sixty four percent who know about Fairtrade tea and coffee, and half who know about Fairtrade chocolate.

These findings have only added to his determination to make more people aware of the difference that mining communities see when selling on Fairtrade terms. He featured in a recent Swiss documentary about the negative side of gold mining advocating Fairtrade gold, and he makes regular appearances in local media “This isn’t a five minute job” he says, “you have to be utterly committed to it.”

Another brand who are fully embracing Fairtrade gold this year is ethical diamond brand Arctic Circle. At the beginning of the year they re-launched with an announcement that they would make all future diamond engagement and wedding rings with Fairtrade gold.

In doing this, they will create a fully traceable engagement and wedding ring. The gold will be Fairtrade, and the diamonds sourced from a sustainable Canadian diamond mine with a certificate and serial number for each one. CEO Judith Lockwood is committed to using Fairtrade gold in all future designs:

“It made complete sense to place this diamond within Fairtrade gold. It is a perfect, complimentary partnership of diamond and gold.”

Judith believes interest in Fairtrade gold is growing steadily, and has identified a “conscientious consumer,” someone “who looks for the Fairtrade brand whether it is roses or cotton t-shirts, the individual who wants to support growers, farmers and artisans.”

She is just as aware as Alan Frampton of the need to keep reminding potential customers that they have a choice and that ethical gold is out there:

“We are starting to hold events and attend bridal events within retail stores – meeting, talking and sharing directly with their customers to tell the story and share the benefits of the mining communities. Fairtrade gold is all about people from beginning to end.”

Someone who agrees that consumers are becoming more aware is Harriet Kelsall, one of the first twenty designers to become a Fairtrade gold licensee and who now has a team of thirty five working in her bespoke jewellery business:

“There definitely is a conscientious consumer – someone who is actively seeking and looking for ethical products and the number of these people has grown substantially since 2010.”

Nevertheless Harriet also thinks that there is much more work to do:

“We need to reach further and do more. There are customers who are still not aware of Fairtrade gold.”

Harriet also thinks that Fairtrade businesses should speak to each other whether it’s coffee, tea, chocolate, gold and share their success and knowledge. “Businesses need to help each other.”

Research may indicate that awareness of Fairtrade gold is still low, but enthusiasm for Fairtrade gold is extremely high. This is especially true of those who are using it to make and sell jewellery. “If you are a jewellery designer wanting to use Fairtrade gold”, Alan says “go for it. There’s a huge potential market to tap into.” There is a huge amount of optimism and passion for Fairtrade gold among businesses and designers.

Today is the second ever Fashion Revolution Day – a sign that the clothing industry is finally waking up to its unethical practices – but we mustn’t forget that it took many years for people to start realising their clothing was being made in sweatshops, in horrible, cruel conditions. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight.

What matters is that there are so many inspiring leaders who are passionate about Fairtrade gold and able to keep telling the Fairtrade gold story spreading the word that no person should die or suffer to bring us a piece of jewellery, however beautiful. With Fairtrade, artisanal and smallscale miners can work towards a brighter future.


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