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Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. New sustainable practices

5 min read

But what happened to the traditional artisan?


Some artisans are still active but are becoming harder to find in Western Countries. At this point in time, some of most elaborated manual work is still possible due to the displacement of production centres to Asian countries. This situation has helped in the creation of jobs but sometimes communities in need have been abused by the power of cheap production; and human capital, resources or environment have been damaged.


“Capitalism, as practiced, is a financially profitable, nonsustainable aberration in human development. What might be called “industrial capitalism” does not fully conform to its own accounting principles. It liquidates its capital and calls it income. It neglects to assign any value to the largest stocks of capital it employs-the natural resources and living systems, as well as the social and cultural systems that are the basis of human capital.”[1]


In respond to the demands of consumers, now more and more retailers and their global suppliers are implementing a series of sector specific standards.  Food, clothes, furniture and others products are undertaking very important changes in the way they are being produced. The aim is to ensure integrity, transparency and harmonisation of global consumer goods production, respecting worker’s health, safety and welfare, environmental and animal welfare issues.


“Green is the New Black” is the new trend on ethical products. Big campaigns like Levi’s new ecological cotton line, and product RED (new global brand, that gives a share of profits to fight Aids in Africa), show new ways of approaching products and production, which are responsible with nature and do help communities in need.


After half a century of extreme production many eyes see the turning point and even some talk about “nu-abstention”[2] a situation where consumers do stop buying and choose for a “more-in-tune-with-nature-stop-consuming” life.


Gold and Diamonds


Ethicality is also a reality in the jewellery sector. Articles in the international press have called for attention on the subject, especially regarding Conflict Diamonds and the Gold mining process, and Mintel’s last report on precious jewellery articles makes note of the following.


An ideological and ethical consumer is beginning to emerge who is in a small way an activist.[3]


There are many references to the Diamond ethical problems in both, the high culture and the popular culture. The photographers Teo van Voeten and Kadir van Lohuizen have approached diamonds, from mine to retail, and made very interesting reportages. James Bond movies commented on the Blood Diamond situation in the film “Die another day” and the Hollywood film about the Sierra Leona’s genocide “Blood Diamond”, also gave its views on the problem. Another example of the popular culture reference comes in the Playstation 2 game “Grand Theft Auto. San Andreas”, where the overhead speaker in the gun shop ‘Ammunation’ states that you can purchase goods with conflict diamonds.


Global Witnesses and Amnesty International have been very important figures exposing the role of diamonds in funding conflict.


 ‘In many African countries, including Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) diamonds have been, and continue to be linked to terrible human rights abuses either by insurgent groups to fuel conflict and carry out atrocities against innocent civilians or by unscrupulous governments who are equally brutal. Illicit diamonds make fabulous profits for terrorists and corporations alike. The trade illustrates with the hard clarity of the gem itself that no matter where human rights violations occur; the world ignores them at its peril’.[4]


To regulate this situation, in 2000, the major diamond trading and producing countries, representatives of the diamond industry, and NGOs came together at Kimberly, South Africa, to set an international governmental certification scheme to prevent the trade of illegal diamonds. After 3 years of negotiations the Kimberly process was established and implemented. 


“The Kimberley Process is an international certification scheme that regulates the trade in rough diamonds. Its aim is to prevent the trade in conflict diamonds, while helping to protect the legitimate trade in rough diamonds”[5]


While some parties feel that the Kimberly Process have fixed all problems regarding conflict diamonds, Global Witnesses calls in a report, made by independent third-party, that the Kimberly Process, is also failing delivering results.


“Although there is much to praise about the inaugural phase, the scheme has not yet evolved into a fully credible check on the international movement of diamonds. Foremost are gaps in oversight, specifically of internal control systems in individual countries and of the peer review monitoring system (PRMS) overall.” ”If Kimberly I to be fully credible, Participants will need to squarely address the issue of conformance without jettisoning widespread participation on which the scheme depends”[6]


While the conflict diamond situation calls for a solution on the level of social security and wealth (“diamonds fund conflict”), the Gold mining process problem calls for a solution on the environmental damage it creates.


“After richer ores are exhausted, skilled mining companies can now level and grind up whole mountains of poore-quality ores to extract the metals desired. But while technology keeps ahead of depletion, providing what appear to be ever-cheaper metals, they only appear cheap, because the stripped rainforest and the mountain of toxic tailings spilling into rivers, the impoverished villages and eroded indigenous cultures-all the consequences they leave in their wake- are not factored into the cost of production”[7]


The process of Gold mining affects directly ecosystems and vast extension of land. Due to their use of Cyanide, it is one of the most dangerous mining. While different publications have called for attention on the subject[8], not much has been changed.


Several organizations are having active campaigns fighting against this kind of mining processes. The “No Dirty Gold” campaign is supported by Earthworks and Oxfam America, both working with local organizations and communities around the world on issues related to mining, human rights, and the environment. “No Dirty Gold” has very strong campaigns regarding class rings (graduation ring) and wedding bands which is affecting extensively the North American community.


“The production of one gold ring generates 20 tons of wastes”[9]


Considering that Gold and Diamonds are widely used materials, it is an issue which needs more attention. This might have been the reason that moved The World Jewellery Confederation and 13 other members to start two years ago the Council for Responsible Practices (CRJP). This Council aims to cover ethical, social and environmental issues across every step of the precious stones and gold jewellery supply chain. Their Code of Practice released at the beginning of 2007 is a helpful text to understand the changes that should occur to achieve responsible, ethical, social and environmental business. At present there are 60 members and things seem to be moving forward.[10]


[1] Hawken.P., Lovins.A, Hunter Lovins.L (2000) Natural Capitalism. The next Industrial revolution, Earthscan Publications, London. p. 5

[2] David R.Shan (2007). Abstaining from luxury. Textile View. Nu 75, p.12.

[3] Precious Metal Jewellery (2006). Mintel report.

[4] Amnsty International. <http://www.amnestyusa.org/diamonds/index.do> Accessed, 5 November 2005.

[5] Kimberly Porcess.< http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/> Accessed, 10 April 2006.

[6] Global Witness. (2006). An Independent Commissioned Review Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Kimberly Process. GremioABC, Partnership Africa Canada .p5

[7] Hawken.P., Lovins.A, Hunter Lovins.L (2000) Natural Capitalism. The next Industrial revolution, Earthscan Publications, London.  p.3

[8] Perlez ,J and Johnson,K.(27, October ,2005) The ecological price of Gold and Oil. The New York Times for the Daily Telegraph.

[9] No Dirty Gold.<http://www.nodirtygold.org> Accessed 16 January 2007

[10] Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices. < http://www.responsiblejewellery.com/about.htm> Accessed 15 June 2006. Life Event research. Appendix B, p.5


This is an excerpt from Arabel Lebrusan's MA paper "Individualism and the heritage of Craftsmanship. Questioning Spanish sensibility and sustainable processes in the contemporary jewellery practice". Central Saint Martins. 2007.

If you have enjoyed reading it you can download the full paper HERE

arabel lebrusan
arabel lebrusan

Arabel Lebrusan is an artist, designer and pioneer of the ethical jewellery movement, with almost two decades of industry experience behind her. She is a fount of knowledge when it comes to responsible sourcing, sustainable manufacture, and the preservation of traditional craft. Her engaging blog posts range from personal accounts of once-in-a-lifetime sourcing trips to helpful tips for buying and wearing jewellery and opinion pieces on pressing industry matters.