The true cost of gold and diamonds

“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness,” Mahatma Gandhi famously said. The same goes for jewellery, with the ugly truth behind the industry recently highlighted in a report by the Human Rights Watch.

The “hidden cost” report examines the supply chains of the huge brands, such as Boodles and Tiffany and Co. as well as the global corporations behind high-street brands like Ernest Jones and H. Samuel.

It tells the tragic tale of a complex supply chain in which “almost none” of the companies can identify the specific mines where all of their gold and diamonds originate.

This enables companies to distance themselves from the worst of industry practises, including human trafficking and child-labour, keeping workers living below the poverty line and funding war and conflict.

“We didn’t know,” they can cry.

So, legitimately, could you – before reading this article.


However, there are ethical jewellery companies where the finest designs of gold, silver and diamonds work to improve the lives of those who mine them.

Owner of Cred Jewellery, Alan Frampton, ensures he can track his whole supply chain and insists on personally visiting the mines where he sources his materials – predominantly Fairtrade gold and silver and Canadian and lab-grown diamonds.

Frampton is an outspoken critic of the lack of responsibility in the industry.

“How can they not be embarrassed that there is more traceability on a tomato being sold in a supermarket for pennies than a £10,000 diamond ring?” he asks.

Alan Frampton with Ugandan miners from Sama.

Frampton’s also critical of the industry standards that are meant to keep the industry in check – as is the report by the Human Rights Watch.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) has positioned itself as a leader for responsible business in the industry. But the report states it “has flawed governance, standards, and certification systems”. Yet, around 1,000 companies use RJC certification to present their gold and diamonds as “responsible.”

According to the report, this is also the reality for the other leading industry standards; the OECD Due Diligence Guidance is “a key standard, poorly implemented” and the Kimberley Process is an “inadequate model” for tracking diamonds.


Fairtrade gold is the world’s first ethical certification system for gold. It’s a very new and developing concept, it began in February 2011, with three certified mines in Peru. Last year, Fairtrade certified the first mines in East Africa and the first Fairtrade gold was imported to the UK from Uganda.

Globally, the gold and diamond industry is worth around £220 billion, with a staggering 90 million carats of rough diamonds and 1,600 tons of gold mined for jewellery each year.

“Yet, miners are like subsistence farmers. They work all day long to buy food so they can work the following day,” says Frampton. “There are 40 million artisanal miners worldwide with 150 million dependents, and they typically earn $1.50 a day. It’s a level of depravation you can’t even begin to imagine.”

Another huge welfare issue is the use of mercury when panning for gold, which is poisonous.

Josephine Agutta, the secretary of a women’s mining association explains how women can use the same bowl for panning for gold as they do for making food for the family and bathing the baby – which can prove fatal for the infants.

“We believe in making beautiful jewellery that has ethical integrity with a purity of source. We know that the small scale miners who mined the gold were fairly treated.”(Cred)

As well as companies like Cred paying the miners around 30 per cent more for the gold, they pay an additional amount into the Fairtrade social premium fund which each community uses to invest in things they need – such as electricity, education and hospitals.

“It’s about education, training and investing in people, we’ve got to be patient and support them,” says Frampton. “It’s a lovely story to see the difference it makes to communities.

“When we went out to South America the miners had no water, no electricity, schooling was poor and they had no sporting activities. There was child labour and there wasn’t any proper health and safety or collective bargaining.”

They’ve now got money to invest into the community, a telephone mast so they can speak to their families in the cities and they’re working on a water pipe.

For every gift you buy, you are also giving back to the mining communities in Peru. (Cred)

“But, one of they greatest things they’ve done is put in a six-aside astroturf football pitch for kids and adults – which sounds frivolous but proved itself to be invaluable. The mines are so remote and the people there had nothing to do. They now have leagues between the villages and it’s made an unimaginable difference to the community spirit,” says Frampton.

In this way, Fairtrade mines represent change – and the possibility of progress. Fairtrade gives small producers access to international markets, and companies like Cred the ability to produce jewellery with complete transparency and traceability.

It gives consumers the opportunity to choose jewellery – often symbols of love, status and wealth – that protects rather than exploits the most vulnerable people in the supply chain.

How to buy ethical gold and silver: your guide to sourcing top-quality jewellery
The first Fairtrade gold hits the UK from Africa: here’s what you need to know

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