This blog is part of a month-long focus around sustainable fashion across HuffPost UK Style and Lifestyle. Here we aim to champion some of the emerging names in fashion and shine a light on the truth about the impact our appetite for fast fashion has around the world.
The trade of unethical diamonds and gemstones is something that the jewellery industry has become increasingly concerned with in recent years. The film release of Blood Diamond in 2006 put the issue into the forefront, leading businesses to readdress their ethical approach following the uproar from celebrities and industry leaders alike calling for the international governments to take notice.
However, as the spotlight starts to fade, it is important that the subject remains a high profile one. The fact that unsustainable mining still exists today is because there is a demand for it; change only happens when the diamond and gemstone trade are effectively challenged. For example, over a quarter of rough cut diamonds in circulation are being processed as blood diamonds. A ground-breaking report back in 1998 was one of the first to call out the issues of the trade; exposing the role of diamonds funding war in Angola. Since then, the launch of the Kimberly Process has made the most significant steps towards battling the issues surrounding the entire diamond and gemstone trade.
The Kimberly Process has grown rapidly in recent years and now has 54 participants, representing 81 countries. A joint government, industry and social society initiative, it was set up to encourage discussion and seek to stem the flow of blood diamond trading. More recently, it has also implemented a certification scheme for diamonds in partnership with the United Nations General Assembly. The increased level of regulation The Kimberly Process aims to put in place is still having little impact in some of the biggest rough diamond mines. In Seurat, India, for example, the lack of regulation makes it impossible to tell which diamonds are legal.
The fact is that while these processes go some way towards addressing the issue, really it is the industry that needs to take a stand. People want cheap diamonds and often they are unaware or overlook the fact that these are sourced from corruption. However, jewellers do have the overview of the whole market - and they are the ones who can change what is delivered to consumers.
It's about cutting out the middle man. Currently there are around nine steps between the mine and a diamond arriving at the jewellers but, if stones are soured directly or jewellers take the time to identify the source, that can be dramatically reduced. Not only that, but less stages mean a lower cost - beneficial to both the jeweller and stemming the demand of these diamonds.
The industry also needs to do more to educate its customers. Despite the publicity, consumers still know little about the trade and the jewellery they are buying. Jewellers need to take responsibility; telling customers the truth about the industry and sharing the importance of The Kimberly Process.
Fundamentally, if consumers stop buying these diamonds, we can cut off the demand. Instead, we need to provide them with reasonably priced, legally sourced stones.
The importance of ethics in business and trade
What is essential to remember is that ethics and people are an integral part to any business. Paying more attention to the supply of stones is not just about doing 'good' but, in today's businesses environment it addresses the need for organisations to be more socially ethical.
At Gemporia, we pride ourselves in implementing ethical practices throughout our daily trade. It is at the heart of what the brand stands for - beautiful jewellery shouldn't cost the earth or should it be mass produced or run of the mill. Gemporia only uses genuine gemstones and precious metals, we work closely with The Colourful Life Foundation to aid communities where gemstones are found - for example in Zambia, Madagascar, Kenya and Tanzania.
The Colourful Life Foundation works with established organisations to fund research-based projects that will deliver long-term, sustainable benefits to communities. My wife, Sarah and I are both very hands on and have always worked closely with the communities where the gemstones are sourced from and are actively involved with charities that improve the health and education of the people we work with. We have won numerous awards due to our commitment in instilling an ethical approach to our business.
Gemporia has a mine in Turkey where we source the Csarite gemstone and own UK exclusivity to this stone. We have been with working with the mine owner for over 9 years and employ over 40 miners - all supported with ample wage and healthcare.
What I have found is that the industry needs to overcome fear and face the issues head on. By being more directly involved in the sourcing of diamonds, I have been able to build a business that is sustainable, profitable and socially responsible. Visiting the places where our diamonds are sourced and meeting the local communities allows us to ensure that the process is sustainable and that we are preventing the flow of blood diamonds.
It takes more than just one road block though. In order to have a real impact, the whole industry needs to take a step back and really look at the supply chain and start educating consumers. Ultimately, the benefits are three-fold; positively benefitting the business' bottom line, proving more ethical and sustainable for the local community and, vitally, it achieves the main goal of preventing the unwarranted and illegal trading of blood diamonds.
HuffPost UK Lifestyle is running a special series around Sustainable Fashion for the month of September. Livia Firth is creative director of Eco-Age and founder of The Green Carpet Challenge, and will be guest editing on 18 September. If you'd like to blog or get involved, please email us.