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The Ethics Of Jewellery: A Guide To Sustainable Shopping

7 mins read. Published on 20 Apr 23, Updated on 05 Jun 23.
The Ethics Of Jewellery: A Guide To Sustainable Shopping

When it comes to shopping for jewellery, it's important to consider more than just the aesthetic appeal. The ethics behind the production of jewellery play a significant role in sustainability and eco-friendliness.

From the mining of precious metals and gemstones to the manufacturing process of jewellery pieces, various aspects need to be assessed for ethical and sustainable practices. In this guide, we'll explore the ethics of jewellery and provide tips on how to shop sustainably for your future pieces.

Table of contents

The Ethics Of Jewellery

The Mining Process

The mining of precious metals and gemstones often involves damaging the environment and exploiting workers. Some mines use harmful chemicals like cyanide and mercury, which can contaminate nearby water sources, leading to health risks for local communities. Ethical jewellery aims to source materials from mines that follow responsible and sustainable practices or use recycled materials.

The Labour Aspect

The jewellery industry has a long history of exploiting cheap and unregulated labour in developing countries. This includes forcing workers to work long hours, often without breaks or protection, and paying them low wages. Ethical jewellery ensures that workers are paid a fair wage and work in safe and healthy environments.

The Supply Chain

The supply chain is the process whereby raw materials are transformed into finished jewellery. The ethical jewellery industry aims to create a transparent supply chain, where each stage is traced from mining to production to selling. It ensures that suppliers adhere to ethical business practices and creates a positive impact on local communities.

What Is Sustainable Jewellery?

Sustainable jewellery is made with ethical and eco-friendly materials and practices that aim to reduce the negative impact on the environment and society. It involves choosing materials and production methods that are safe, eco-friendly, and socially responsible.

The materials used in sustainable jewellery should be environmentally friendly and safe for those involved in the production process. Some of the commonly used materials include:

  • Recycled precious metals - this involves using precious metals from old jewellery or scrap metal that would otherwise end up in landfills or contribute to mining pollution.
  • Lab-grown diamonds - these diamonds are grown in a lab using sustainable practices and are free from conflict and exploitation concerns.
  • Fairtrade or ethically sourced gemstones - these are gemstones that have been mined and traded in a way that is ethical and sustainable.

Production methods used in sustainable jewellery

The production methods used in sustainable jewellery should be eco-friendly and socially responsible. Some of the common practices include:

  • Using renewable energy - this involves using energy from renewable sources such as solar or wind power.
  • Reducing waste - this involves using recycled materials and reducing waste by reusing or recycling old jewellery.
  • Fair labour practices - this involves ensuring that the workers involved in the production process are treated fairly and paid a living wage.

By choosing sustainable jewellery, you are not only protecting the environment but also supporting ethical and responsible production practices.

Materials To Look For In Sustainable Jewellery

When shopping for sustainable jewellery, it's important to pay attention to the materials used in the production process. Here are some of the top sustainable materials to look for:

Recycled Metals

Recycled metals are a popular choice for sustainable jewellery because they significantly reduce the need for mining new metals. Look for pieces made from recycled gold or silver that have been repurposed from electronic waste or scrap metal.

Organic Materials

Organic materials like bamboo, fruit seeds, and even tagua nuts can be used in sustainable jewellery production. These materials are biodegradable and don't contribute to pollution or waste.

Lab-Grown Gemstones

Lab-grown gemstones are becoming increasingly popular in sustainable jewellery. These stones have the same composition and physical properties as natural stones, but they are grown in a lab using significantly less energy and water than mining natural stones.

Upcycled Materials

Upcycling involves taking materials that would otherwise be considered waste and turning them into new products. Jewellery made with upcycled materials like broken glass or discarded plastic can be a sustainable and unique option.

Certifications And Supply Chain Transparency

When shopping for jewellery, it is important to consider the ethical and sustainable practices of the brand. This includes certifications and transparent supply chains. Look for brands that are certified by organizations such as the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), Fairtrade International, and the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM). These certifications ensure that the brand adheres to standards related to human rights, social development, and environmental performance.

RJC Certification

The Responsible Jewellery Council is a non-profit organization that sets global standards for responsible practices in the jewellery supply chain. RJCs certification ensures that brands are ethical in their practices, from the mining of materials to the selling of the finished product. RJC certification covers areas such as supply chain transparency, human rights, labour rights, and environmental impact. When buying jewellery, look for the RJC logo to ensure that a brand has been audited for responsible practices.

Fairtrade Certification

Fairtrade International is an organization that works to promote fair and sustainable trade practices. Their certification ensures that producers from developing countries receive fair prices for their materials and labour, and that they work under safe and decent conditions. When buying Fairtrade-certified jewellery, you can be confident that the workers who produced it were fairly compensated for their work.

ARM Certification

The Alliance for Responsible Mining is an organization that works to promote responsible mining practices. This includes reducing the social and environmental impact of mining, while ensuring that miners are paid fairly for their work. ARM certification ensures that the mining of materials, such as gold and silver, is ethical and responsible.

By looking for certifications and transparent supply chains, you can be confident that the jewellery you buy was produced ethically and sustainably. It is important to support brands that prioritize these values, as they have a positive impact on the environment and the people who produce our products. So next time you go shopping for jewellery, make sure you consider the ethical practices of the brand before making a purchase.

The Impact Of Jewellery Production On People And The Environment

Human Rights Issues

The production of jewellery often involves mining of precious metals and gems, which can have detrimental impacts on the health and safety of the workers. Many mining communities are located in developing countries where labour laws are lax or non-existent. Moreover, child labour, forced labour, and exploitation are common in these unregulated mines. Ethical jewellery producers are increasingly taking measures to ensure that their supply chains are free of exploitative practices.

Environmental Problems

Mining activities, such as excavation and land use, can result in significant environmental damage. The use of toxic chemicals, such as cyanide and mercury, in the extraction of metals and gems from ores can pollute water bodies, harm wildlife, and pose a risk to human health. Mining also contributes to deforestation, soil erosion, and loss of biodiversity. Jewellery production also generates a significant amount of carbon emissions, mainly from transportation and packaging. Consumers can choose jewellery made from recycled materials, fair trade gold, and lab-grown diamonds to support sustainable practices.

Sustainable Alternatives

Consumers can reduce the impact of jewellery production on people and the environment by choosing ethical and sustainable alternatives. Jewellery made from recycled metals or fair trade gold can reduce the demand for freshly mined metals. Lab-grown diamonds do not involve any mining activities or labour exploitation. Consumers can also look for jewellery makers who use eco-friendly and sustainable production techniques, and who are transparent about their supply chains. Buying second-hand or vintage jewellery is another sustainable option that reduces the demand for new production.

The Importance Of Buying From Ethical And Sustainable Jewellery Brands

When it comes to buying jewellery, it's important to consider the ethical and sustainable practices of the brand. The jewellery industry has long been associated with unethical mining, poor working conditions, and environmental damage. By choosing to support ethical and sustainable jewellery brands, consumers can make a positive impact on the industry and the planet.

Reducing Environmental Impact

Ethical and sustainable jewellery brands prioritize responsible sourcing of materials and minimize their environmental impact. They use recycled metals and responsibly mined gemstones to reduce waste and ensure that their sourcing methods do not negatively impact the environment. Additionally, these brands often have eco-friendly production processes, such as using renewable energy sources and reducing water usage.

Fair Working Conditions

Many jewellery brands have been criticized for engaging in unfair labour practices and exploiting workers in the mining and production of their products. Ethical and sustainable jewellery brands prioritize fair working conditions and pay fair wages to their employees. They often work with small, independent artisans and support their communities by providing jobs and training opportunities.

Transparency and Traceability

Ethical and sustainable jewellery brands are transparent about their sourcing and production practices. They provide information about the origin of the materials they use and the methods they use to produce their jewellery. This leads to greater trust between consumers and the brand, and allows consumers to make informed decisions about the products they purchase.

Overall, buying from ethical and sustainable jewellery brands is an important way to support responsible and positive practices in the industry. By doing so, consumers contribute to a more transparent and sustainable jewellery industry that benefits workers, the environment, and communities around the world.

Tips For Sustainable Jewellery Shopping

Choose recycled metals

One of the most significant ways to make sustainable jewellery purchases is to opt for pieces made from recycled metals. By selecting metals with a recycled stamp, you are helping to reduce the demand for new mining, thereby reducing the impact on the environment.

Support artisanal jewellers

sustainable shopping.

Choose conflict-free diamonds and gemstones

Diamonds bear a high environmental and social cost, including forced labor and exploiting vulnerable communities. Therefore, to promote sustainable shopping, choose lab-grown diamonds, vintage gems, or opt for conflict-free diamonds and gemstones that meet ethical standards.

Look for ethical certifications

Not all jewelry brands meet ethical standards, so to ensure sustainability, look for ethical certifications such as Fairtrade, B-corp, and Carbon Neutral certifications. These certifications ensure that the companies have met specific standards and criteria to uphold sustainable practices.

Better care for your jewellery

Taking optimum care of your jewellery improves its longevity, making it last longer and reducing the need for replacements. Be sure to store them carefully, using non-toxic cleaning products, avoid harsh chemicals, and repair them when necessary.


As eco-conscious consumers, it is important to consider the ethics of jewellery when making purchasing decisions. By choosing sustainably sourced and ethically made jewellery, we can reduce the environmental and social impact of the industry.

Key Factors to Consider

When shopping for jewellery, consider the following factors:

  • Sourcing: look for jewellery made with recycled metals and ethically sourced gemstones
  • Manufacturing: choose jewellery made by companies with fair labor practices and environmentally-friendly production methods
  • Transparency: seek out companies that are transparent about their supply chain and manufacturing processes

The Impact of Ethical Jewellery Shopping

By supporting ethical jewellery, we can:

  • protect human rights and fair labor practices
  • minimize environmental harm and resource depletion
  • support small-scale and artisanal miners and producers
  • promote transparency and accountability in the industry

Remember, every purchase we make has an impact on the world around us. Through mindful and sustainable jewellery shopping, we can make a positive impact on the planet and its people.

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