All of these rings have been made with recycled metals and feature traceable gems and diamonds — but is that enough to rate them as ethical jewellery?

“Ethical Jewellery” — what does that even mean?

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve witnessed what might be described as a tectonic shift in consumer’s attitudes towards concepts like sustainability, environmental responsibility, human rights, Fair Trade and the like.

The problem is, it’s difficult to define ‘ethical’

A week or so ago I read a definition of ‘Ethical Jewellery’ that described it as “jewellery that has no negative impact on the people who make it, or the environment it’s produced in.” (1)

Is there an ethical ‘tipping point’?

Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing, but surely there must be a tipping point, a point at which a business or product ceases to be simply ‘run-of-the-mill’ and can justifiably be described as ‘ethical’?

What else doesn’t qualify?

Here I want to bring to the table the ideas of eco-friendliness and sustainability. Not because I don’t think they are good things, they are. I’m just not sure that, in isolation, they automatically imbue ethical status upon a business or product.

“… just because something is legal, that doesn’t make it right.”

Just as you can’t be half pregnant, you can’t be half ethical. You can’t do some things right and expect that to outweigh obvious wrongdoing.

What’s the difference between ‘acting in good faith’ and greenwashing?

First up, what is greenwashing?

Is it enough to be an ethical business?

The point I’m making here is there’s a difference between an ethical product and an ethical business.

Is it enough to sell an ethical product?

We’ve all heard of instances where high profile businesses loudly and proudly claim to be producing eco-friendly products only to discover they’re manufacturing them in sweatshops somewhere or are otherwise behaving unethically or illegally.

Is there such a thing as ‘ethical jewellery’?

Short answer: Yes, but the reality is there are degrees of being ethical ranging from ‘not very’ to ‘in, boots and all’.

How might we categorise businesses and products?

What we need to recognise is ethics can be a very personal thing, and because of that it’s virtually impossible for a business or product to be ethical by everyone’s standards.

  1. Neutral — they operate within the law having no unusual net effect, good or bad; and
  2. Ethical — they lessen harm/produce societal benefits.
Grid with Business Behaviour on one axis and Product Attributes on the other, each graded less to more ethical.
Grid with Business Behaviour on one axis and Product Attributes on the other, each graded less to more ethical.

It is, and should be a process of continual improvement

An important thing to recognise is that not everyone is there yet. Many businesses are working towards improving their ethical performance and we shouldn’t be too critical of them if they’re not quite there yet.

  1. Bario Neal News, January 30, 2010 — Definitions of Ethical, Fair Trade, Green and Sustainable, pertaining to the Jewellery Industry

Jewellery industry consumer advocate and Blogger + Co-founder of bespoke jewellery company, Ethical Jewellery Australia

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