Briton finds ethical jewellery good as gold

Thu Jan 10, 2008 5:10pm EST
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By David Brough

CHICHESTER (Reuters) - "Customers don't realize that one wedding ring weighs 10 grams and causes three tonnes of toxic waste," says Greg Valerio, whose company aims to follow fair trade coffee with ethical gold jewellery.

A silver-haired anti-poverty and human rights campaigner, he is at the forefront of a fast-growing global market for gold and platinum jewellery which seeks to soothe consumers' consciences and protect miners from danger and exploitation.

His jewellery shop in the southern English city of Chichester has formed a partnership with miners in a cooperative in Choco, an underdeveloped region in northeast Colombia, called the Green Gold ("Oro Verde") project.

Together they are working with the Fairtrade Foundation -- which backs farmers and workers from poor countries to develop their communities through fairer terms of trade. They aim to extend Fairtrade's successful labelling to gold.

"Green gold" jewellery is a niche in a fast-growing wider market for ethical goods, ranging from day-to-day foodstuffs like tea, coffee and chocolate to designer fashions and travel.

Analysts say global sales of ethical gold jewellery are probably less than one percent of the total $56 billion gold jewellery market based on figures from London-based consultancy GFMS -- and the Fairtrade label is a year or so away.

Although the ethical product is priced at a premium and gold is at record highs, the market has been ballooning. Among a plethora of online offers are companies including one called greenKarat that argues industrial mining methods damage the land and endanger ecosystems, so recycled gold would be better for society.

British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett includes a link to Valerio's outlet, called Cred, on her Web site. He said ethics were a strong selling point in the jewellery trade: a woman would not want to receive a gift that was tarnished by exploitation.   Continued...