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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 06:43 GMT
Gold standard for ethical jewellery
By Rachel Grant
BBC News, Hampshire

Cred gold
Wedding and engagement rings are made from the ethical gold

A unique partnership between Columbia and the UK is pioneering a trade in ethical luxury jewellery.

A wedding ring is a symbol of true, undying love given a moment when nothing else seems to matter.

But less romantically, as awareness of consumer ethics grows, a story of poisonous and damaging practices and untraceable sources is emerging.

While some customers are familiar with conflict diamonds, the concept of ethical gold or platinum is less well-known.

It is almost impossible to trace the source of metal, or how much social or environmental damage or economic exploitation may have been involved in its journey to a jewellers.

One wedding ring weighs 10g and causes three tons of toxic waste
Greg Valerio, Cred

Currently leading the effort to source ethical platinum and gold and campaign for change in the industry is Cred, a small Hampshire-based company that began as a jewellery shop in Chichester, Sussex.

Its founder Greg Valerio is a poverty and human rights campaigner who turned his attention to businesses with "radical social responsibility".

Thanks to a partnership with Green Gold in Colombia developed over three years, Cred has become one of the world's first companies to offer guaranteed ethical gold and platinum jewellery.

Greg Valerio
Greg Valerio founded the company as a model of ethical trade

Chris Davis, from the UK's Fairtrade Foundation, has visited the Green Gold co-operative in the Choco region as part of an investigation to find out whether precious metals are suitable for their ethical label.

He says: "There is absolutely a need for greater support for artisan and small scale miners and the work Cred is doing with Green Gold is very pioneering."

From a workshop in Gosport, Cred's goldsmiths create engagement rings, wedding bands and bespoke pieces.

Mr Valerio, who is also a co-founder of the Association for Responsible Mining, says: "Customers don't realise that one wedding ring weighs 10g and causes three tons of toxic waste.

"We have a global system that has emerged in such a way that it has made unfairness in economic relationships normal.

Earning living

"Fair trade is an economic redistribution of wealth, empowering miners there to run their own affairs."

According to the World Bank, about 13 million people in 30 countries earn their living from small-scale mining and up to 100 million depend on it for their livelihood.

The problems facing miners include contamination from poisonous chemicals used to separate metals, environmental degradation from mining techniques and, conflicts over land.

Most miners find it impossible to get a fair price for their product because they can't sell directly to the world market.

Americo's mine in Choco. Pic Greg Valerio
Miners use cairns to protect topsoil while the river is diverted

The Green Gold miners are, according to Mr Valerio, the "most responsible miners in the world".

These African-Columbian miners, who are descendants of slaves, were given collective property rights in 1993.

Since then they have developed ways to mine with minimum impact on the environment, using new and ancient techniques to pan rivers in the bio-diverse rainforest.

Choco is one of the few places in the world where a platinum dust can be panned; normally it comes from deep mines.

Cred buys most of the co-operative's precious metals and the social premium is currently invested in bringing more families into the scheme, a decision made by the miners.

Lina Villa, director of Ami Choco, one of four Green Gold co-operatives, says: "It is really meaningful that we can establish this kind of relationship with people who are on the other side of the market."

They say it's impossible, yet we're doing it
Greg Valerio, Cred

The metal is refined in small batches so it cannot get contaminated with metals from other sources.

The idea is growing in Latin America as more artisan miners share ideas and techniques.

"We are really proud to have created a sustainable model that can be replicated elsewhere. It is really empowering," Ms Villa says.

The next phase will be a miner exchange between Columbia and Africa to help set up similar sustainable schemes on the other side of the Atlantic.

Making jewellery in the Gosport workshop
All the jewellery fittings are handmade from traceable metals

Cred's pioneering approach has brought Mr Valerio opportunities to address industry leaders, despite his outspoken opinions about large-scale mining companies operating as "neo-colonial operators" that can afford to fund better practices.

He has also worked with fashion designers such as Katherine Hamnett, and helped independent jewellers to source ethical materials.

The company is attracting customers from countries as far as Japan, but Mr Valerio's next ambition is to persuade the mainstream market that social and environmental factors are relevant in jewellery production.

"They say it's impossible, yet we're doing it," Mr Valerio says.

"If I can do it as a little business why can't they?"



SEE ALSO
Fairtrade seeks £50m investment
27 Feb 07 |  Business
Sainsbury's in £1m Fairtrade plan
16 Aug 07 |  Business
How fair is Fairtrade?
07 Mar 07 |  Magazine

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