Skip to main content

What would you do? The source of our materials

Try googling "child labor", "slave labor", or "sweatshops" together with the term "jewelry". You might be shocked by what you find, or maybe not so shocked. I think that many of us know instinctively that where there are large profits to be made, there are also likely to be people who will unscrupulously take advantage of others. This is the topic that I want to think about for this installment of our series What would you do?

Edahn Golan, writing for the International Diamond Exchange has written an article that discusses child labor and slave labor practices in several countries. Some of these countries - not all - have laws prohibiting this behavior, but they are not enforced, or at least they are enforced selectively. You can find dozens of articles like this without even trying very hard.

I'm not trying to make us feel bad, but I do want to make us think. Do you know the practices and standards held by the companies that you buy from? Are you aware that some - not all - inexpensive stone beads are inexpensive because of the sufferings of another? That conditions in some - not all - glass factories are so bad that you wouldn't allow your worst enemy to work there?

We all want to keep our costs down, whether we are making things for our own pleasure or making them to sell. And of course it's very difficult to really know the provenance of the materials we use. Sometimes we just have to rely on the word of those we buy from. Is there more we can do, though? Is this something you've thought about at all?

Tell me your thoughts on this. I don't necessarily have any wonderfully insightful answers to give. What would you do?

Technorati Tags:,,,,,,


WindyRiver said…
This is such a difficult issue - generally when I purchase supplies I don't always know where they come from. It would be nice to have some way of knowing if they are "cruelty free" products - just as some products state "No animal testing" it would be nice to have the same certification of "no child labor." Until something like that exists it's hard to take this into consideration when shopping for supplies of any sort - not that you don't want to consider this issue but there is no way to know one way or the other. I am glad you brought up this issue - it's something we should think about, but it's also something that I feel somewhat powerless to address at this point.
Cyndi L said…
I know exactly what you're saying. It's important. We can't do much. :-(

When I buy from catalogs, I try to find out what their sources are, but at gem shows, I feel completely in the dark. Of course that's where you'll naturally get the best prices too. I don't think that not shopping shows is the way to solve this.
I live in Mexico and so I see some of this at the source.

I buy locally but directly from the source, so I feel I am helping someone and not helping them be taken advantage of.

I want to steer clear of materials that come from countries known for exploiting child labor, but if we refuse to buy, what happens to them?

It's a real conundrum.
Shel said…
Wow, really difficult topic. I agree with the first person (WindyRiver) who responded "there is no way to know, one way or the other." - this is so true most of the time and it really sucks! (sorry!)

I was at the Tucson Gem Show here a few weeks back and while standing at a booth looking at some really pretty things, the woman next to me asked the worker at the booth where the gems came from and her answer was 'China'. The woman immediately put down the gems and said "I cannot be a part of slave and child labor shops and therefore cannot buy from places that allow that sort of mining and those types of practices. I'll buy from India, Mexico and other places - but not China!" She immediately put down the gems she was holding and walked away, did about 4 other people, myself included.

I felt bad for the person tending the booth because that was money they were loosing to possibly feed their families, but at the same time, I wasn't educated enough on the situation to feel good or to have a good conscience with a purchase after hearing what I heard.

I know I've had to have purchased gemstones/beads/pearls,silver, etc. from places that allow slave labor and/or child labor in the past, but these last few years with all the things coming out in the press and elsewhere has made me stop to think and to at least try to be more responsible.

It's going to be a long road to haul before the industry as a whole is able to change things - but I do hope those changes/laws get made because they are needed so badly. My hope/wish is that no one has to suffer in order for me to play with 'pretty things'!!
Cyndi L said…
Thank you for your thoughtful response, Michelle, especially in light of your very recent experience at Tucson. The trouble I have with sorting this out is that I'm not sure "China" always equals "Bad" and the other countries always equal "Good". I feel like I need a lot more education on this topic personally, and I'm not sure where to get it other than by continuing to research and ask questions of each supplier.
Shel said…
Yes, me too Cyndi - I think you're right - places we've heard to be good/bad might not actually be as we think.

I know I definitely need a lot more education and awareness on the subject as a whole.

Asking each time as I go along is a great way to learn and to try to be responsible - you're right there, too.

Great dicussion - thanks for opening this up!
Anonymous said…
Thank you for writing about this controversial topic. It's something I think we all need to think about, not only slave and child labor put into our supplies, but the actual source of the earth that they come from and the impact on the environment that can be cause. (Think coral, gemstones, etc.)
Cyndi L said…
Megan, thank you for broadening the topic. You're absolutely right...I also want to know that my materials have been "harvested" in a way that is the least damaging to the environment in which they're found. I'm thankful that there has been so many different shell beads cropping up lately that can take the place of some of the more endangered varieties, but I need to look into it and make sure that they are not creating some *new* problem!
sue said…
I think there could be a web site started on a main page that all beaders could refer to: e.g. I know that there are "basic ethics" about copying designs etc..
In my local community, we (parents of autistic children) started a yshoogroup where parents would comment on their own experience with a new therapy, therapists, a new pharmaceutical drug, a doctor with a new protocal, or a different homeopathic remedy ... the list is endless... They were OUR personal stories to help other parents. When my son was younger, autism was 1 in 10,000. Today it is one in every 100. There are doctors that sadly charge thousands of dollars for new protocals to help .... Most things with autism are out of pocket expenses for parents b/c nothing is proven to work - it is such a mystery. So - after 17 years of doing everying that I thought was safe and wouldn't hurt him - nothing did what it or they claimed it would. Spent hundreds of thousands of dollars - but I know I helped other parents with my truthful and informative description of what my son and I encountered with whatever it was we tried. Pathetic at best, this is my comparison to perhaps what could be done to help the community at large start to share knowledge if they experienced something e.g. Michelle's experience at the Tuscon bead show. I believe it is our moral and ethical duty to try. If we do nothing, nothing will change. If we try, it may help to start get the ball rolling for the future generations. In addition, I believe there is something already in place for the diamond market. Before one buys a diamond, they should ask if it is conflict free. If not, find the reputable jeweler that does sell conflict free everything. I was recently communicating with a fb friend of mine in a different county where he spent most his life in Africa trying to protect the miners... I didn't truly understand the full meaning of "blood diamonds" until he explained it to me. What he witnessed was horrific.. So now, I try and spread the word about conflict free diamonds (I think that is the term). Sorry about the comparison... this one stuck out strong for me. Perhaps I was able to bore you to sleep.... Sorry, my fingers were typing my two cents and I couldn't stop them!
Cyndi L said…
Don't ever apologize! I found your comparison to have a lot of value. I don't know that there is one place like you and your community have formed that is currently online and would help us to share our knowledge about various materials. I know that individual suppliers that I deal with have some information available on their own sites, and maybe I could look into creating a list of the links that others could add to. It's a start...I just don't know what else to do.

Putting it on my list for next week's research...
Cyndi L said…
Alright...this has turned out to be much harder than I anticipated. I could only find two catalog sites that seemed to address the issue of source (their print catalogs have a bit more actually), and even on those, the info is spotty. I can understand not wanting to reveal who your suppliers are, and I think that's the major stumbling block.

For what it's worth, I found these pages:

Rings & Things

Fire Mountain Gems