Fair Trade Conference Highlights Sustainable Development Jewelry Options

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RAPAPORT…  The Rapaport Fair Trade Conference, held on June 4, 2007, at the JCK Las Vegas Show, highlighted viable options for the creation of sustainable development jewelry. Panelists from various organizations presented their views on the growth of global fair trade, the need for sustainable development in Africa and the accompanying demographic and labor issues. In addition, the conference looked at consumer interest in fair trade as well as the growing visibility of the concept in the business and media sectors.

Lourens Maré, CEO of the Jewellery Council of South Africa, and Demos Takoulas, CEO and founder of Vukani-Ubuntu Community Development Projects, both stressed the critical role that fair trade jewelry could play in facilitating sustainable development initiatives. They explained that fair labor practices and local manufacturing of jewelry could bring employment opportunities and other benefits to local communities.

Tom Cushman, a gemstone dealer with first-hand knowledge of artisanal mining in Madagascar, emphasized this point by offering examples from Madagascar, which he described as “the poorest country on earth without a current military conflict.” He explained how the migration of many of Madagascar’s poorest citizens each year to the country’s mining and panning areas underscored the need for fair labor practices to prevent substandard and chaotic working conditions. He called for the implementation of standards that could also benefit the local communities with the development of health centers and improved drinking water and electricity.

Eric Braumwart, CEO of Columbia Gem House, a manufacturer of “fair trade” gems, noted how far the concept of ethical jewelry had evolved over the past few years. Recalling the scant interest in such jewelry at previous conferences as little as five years ago, he shared how some retailers had embraced the concept at this year’s JCK show. “This is the first show where we have had retailers walk into our booth and say ‘We’re ready to buy—we want to buy the concept,’ he said. Braumwart argued that fair trade is not only moral and just for low-wage workers, but it is also “the right business thing to do.”

Caren Holtzman, director of category management for TransFair USA, the flagship purveyor of fair trade products in the U.S. talked about the economic achievements of fair trade, noting that over 150 million lbs of fair trade coffee have been certified since its inception in 1997. In addition, the certified coffee is currently available in such mainstream outlets as Costco, Sam’s Club, Whole Foods, McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, with over $100 million in additional revenue going to coffee farmers, Holtzman said.

Veronika Kohler, a spokeswoman for the World Bank’s CASM Secretariat, called fair trade “a market-driven opportunity for development” in mining areas. She noted that the $50 billion dollar jewelry market in the U.S.could take advantage of this opportunity as public awareness of the issue increases.

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