This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the UK, and many people will be heading to the nearest high street to buy their mum a nice piece of jewellery.
But before buying a necklace or bracelet, we want people to ask their jeweller: Where does this gold or diamond come from? And what have you, as a jeweller, done to find out about any human rights abuses where it was mined?
The conditions under which gold and diamonds are mined can be brutal. Human Rights Watch has documented how children have been injured and killed mining precious minerals; how civilians have suffered in war as armed groups have enriched themselves through mining; and how communities have been poisoned by mines emitting toxic chemicals.
In Nigeria, Amina, a young mother, told Human Rights Watch how three of her children died from lead poisoning, as the heavy metal was released during small-scale gold mining: “I had six children, three have died. Each time one died, I was so distraught and I was very traumatized.”
At Human Rights Watch, we recently scrutinized the sourcing policies of 13 well-known jewellery brands. Among them were the UK high street jewellers Ernest Jones and H. Samuel, as well as the UK luxury jeweller Boodles.
We found that companies’ jewellers often cannot identify where their gold and diamonds originate and rely on the assurances of their suppliers that their gold and diamonds are free of human rights abuses, without verifying these claims. In many cases, companies also fail to publish information on their sourcing practices. Several jewellery companies presented certification by the Responsible Jewellery Council, an industry group, as evidence that they were sourcing responsibly. But that Council’s standards are weak and its certification process is not transparent.
Jewellery companies should ensure they have traceable, transparent supply chains that are regularly checked for human rights abuses. That way, they could help prevent needless deaths, like those of Amina’s three children.