I’m not a big fan of capitalism, at least not from a philosophical point of view. Any system that is predicated on greed is going to have negative as well as positive outcomes. The theory is that the aspiring wealth creators drag the rest of society up the mountain of material gain to the plateaux of prosperity. In practice they are often actually being carried up the mountain by the workers they exploit; workers who can only subsist and never progress.
The jewellery trade has its fair share of this sort of exploitation. I parked my clapped out car in the courtyard of a retailer next to the owner’s BMW and his wife’s Mercedes. The meeting went well and they wanted to stock my work but said they would only buy silver if they could mark it up four times and that they also insisted on 10% discount. I was selling rings to them for £25.00 on which I made £4.60 profit. A 10% discount would have reduced that to £2.10, for nearly and hour’s work. They were selling the rings on at £120.00
I didn’t accept.
This, though, is nothing compared to what happens right at the bottom of the food chain. A good proportion of the gold that goes to make up our jewellery comes from diverse, small scale mining. Some has been mined by children sitting at the bottom of deep holes, paddling poisonous mercury in their palms to separate the gold from the ore. The ‘mines’ sometimes collapse or flood. Children die or lose limbs. The revenue that the work generates is never enough to invest in better equipment of conditions and the children can’t get an education because they need to keep working in order to survive. (You can read more about it here)
For me, it’s time to do something about this. I’m investigating the ethical issues within the jewellery trade with a view to altering my own practices and also raising awareness so that we can all make better choices when we spend our money.
I’ll keep you updated.