Research into ethically produced jewellery has opened a new market in jewellery retail, led to a £200,000 increase in annual turnover, and improved working conditions and the environmental impact of gold mining.

Impacts

  • Sourcing gold from Fairtrade mines has increased the number of miners who are working in safe conditions, with none being employed under the age of 18 working underground. The surrounding mining landscape is also being restored over time.
  • New jewellery product lines were developed using Fairtrade gold and ethically sourced diamonds.
  • As a direct outcome of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, UK jewellery manufacturer Hockley Mint saw a £200,000 increase in annual turnover and expects this to rise to £5 million within three years.
  • Launch of the Fairtrade Ambassador Scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, encouraging retailers to stock Fairtrade gold wedding and engagement rings.
  • Over 30 independent jewellery retailers have signed up to the Fairtrade Ambassador Scheme, with more members anticipated to join.

"Working with Rose Dunne and Birmingham City University has enabled the company to explore avenues that were typically not available to us. Our Fairtrade Ambassador Scheme is truly unique, offering support and direction to the many retailers enlisted to the programme." (Gary Wroe, MD, Hockley Mint)

About the research

Working on an ESRC-funded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Birmingham City University and Hockley Mint, KTP Associate Rose Dunne concluded within the first six months that the original KTP objective of using digital communications to increase sales was of little interest to jewellery retailers. However, she suggested there was a potentially untapped market in ethically produced products, particularly for wedding and engagement rings. As a result, the focus of the KTP was changed to develop a new brand for rings made from Fairtrade gold and ethically sourced diamonds.

Research conducted with Hockley Mint's retailers highlighted the opportunity for promoting and selling ethically produced jewellery, helping them to enhance their brand image while also improving miners' livelihoods. Responsible jewellery manufacture was recognised as a completely new market, and products were developed using Fairtrade gold and ethically sourced diamonds. This led to a shift in company strategy with a focus towards responsible jewellery, including research, education and promotion. A Fairtrade Ambassador Scheme was devised by Dunne to provide retail stores with point-of-sale displays and other marketing materials to promote the production of Fairtrade gold products.

Many gold miners (some are children as young as eight years old) work in very poor conditions with the risk of mercury poisoning, and are trapped in financial arrangements with loan sharks acting as gold dealers. Fairtrade acts as the wholesaler, giving gold miners in Tanzania a fair price for their gold in local currency. The miners are provided with tools and personal protection equipment, children are not allowed to work in the mines but provided with schooling, and the hazardous process of using mercury to extract gold from the ore has been replaced with a much safer alternative – removing the effects of mercury poisoning and long-time environmental damage.

In 2016, the KTP earned the highest possible grade and Certificate of Excellence for a successful KTP project from Innovate UK. Rose Dunne was also named one of Retail Jeweller's Rising Stars '30 Under 30' for 2016, a list highlighting promising talent in the jewellery industry.