To the Pure Earth staff in the office and in the field, I acknowledge that you are the true heroes working tirelessly and daily to make people’s lives better for now and the future. I dedicate this award to you and the miners. While I have the immense privilege of being on this side of the issue, I know my hand could have been dealt differently, and that the only differences between me and an artisanal gold miner are chance and circumstance.
I am so excited that for the first time ever, I know the name of the miner who mined the gold for my Oculus Marquise Pendant. His name is Don Pedro. Many more miners will not be named or acknowledged. But they do have names. They do have families, and they deserve better than having to settle for working with toxic mercury, which they can breathe in and be poisoned, or can leak in to the ecosystem through air and water, indirectly leading to unhealthy outcomes.
While this issue is not about me, it is also personal to me. I have lead and mercury in my body for unknown reasons. A number of mysterious health issues led me to this discovery. Although I am still incredibly able-bodied and fortunate, I bring this up to demonstrate that we may all be many fewer degrees than we think away from the issue of mercury. It may seem like a problem happening elsewhere, but we are all interconnected, and our choices and actions have a ripple effect, whether positive or negative.
Mercury in artisanal gold mining is also not just a problem for those of us in the jewelry industry. Gold and other metals are in every one of our smartphones.
It took me a while to realize the importance of supporting any kind of mining. When I started my jewelry business years ago, I opted to work in 100% recycled gold and silver, believing that was the most sustainable, ethical solution. I didn’t realize though that gold has been being recycled for many years because of its high value, that recycled gold is often contaminated, and there is no way to know what percentage is actually recycled. I was greenwashed, and from engaging with people much smarter than I, some of whom are in this room tonight, I learned the importance of investing in solutions rather than just putting on bandaids and patting oneself on the back.
As business owners and even as employees, we can build and advocate for ethical systems within our workplaces. We all have the power, to varying degrees, to make an impact with our choices. We can all think about and ask where the things we buy come from, from toilet paper to fine jewelry. Simply asking questions can have a positive ripple effect.
And to my fellow members of the jewelry industry, it is up to us to educate ourselves, choose the most just supply chains possible, and work towards making them better. We must do all that we can collectively and individually to invest in and create solutions to humanitarian and environmental issues that our industry and world faces. We must not allow perfect to be the enemy of the good and develop appetites for nuance and complexity, as the solutions are not often simple and usually imperfect.
We must educate our customers and empower them with the knowledge to know what questions to ask and to participate in making the world better. The ripple effect applies here, too. I hope to inspire you to take this to your companies.
I dream of a world where luxury is not defined by exploitation, excess and greed, but by the respect and care taken to support the planet and individuals from each miner to customer. I believe that this world is starting to emerge, and that we have a duty to do our part in creating it, or be left behind.