Cred Jewellery is a big name, though not for the reasons you’d expect. A little-known organisation as far as glossy mags and fashion bloggers are concerned, Cred happen to be the UK’s original 100% fairtrade jewellery company. Cred have been doing things responsibly, creating beautiful ethical jewellery for years, doing things right, even when nobody’s watching.
It’s a sad reality that most of the time, when we buy something sparkly, we give little or no thought to where it came from, who mined the materials to make it, and at what cost. Today’s jewellery industry is huge but Cred is challenging existing standards, encouraging others to operate fairly and to change the world for the better. I had a coffee with Alan Frampton, Cred’s inspiring Director, to find out more about the mining communities the company works with, how jewellery really affects people’s lives, and why we should all choose to wear accessories from ethical producers from here on out…
Why was Cred created?
Cred was started in around 1995 by Greg Valerio. Greg has always fought against social injustice and decided to get into selling jewellery. He went on a trip to India and visited the garnet mines in Jodhpur; here he witnessed the appalling conditions workers faced every single day. Greg began tracking many other aspects of the industry and realised that there were about fifteen million artisanal miners in the world all earning less than a dollar a day. In 2004 he set up a fair-trade unit in Columbia called Oro Verde. This mine used alluvial processes to extract gold from river beds and because there was no chemical refinement involved this was really the first source of eco-gold.
In 2011 gold was launched as a fair-trade product and Greg was largely responsible for this. He was the founding member of the Alliance for Responsible Mining and is still a great campaigner. About four years ago Greg’s wife, a trustee of a charity in Tanzania and Rwanda that I’m involved with, introduced me to Cred. I believe strongly in the importance of transparent supply chains and traceability and I soon became the company’s director.
Now, we’re issuing a wake-up call. The jewellery industry is breathtaking in terms of design but is appalling in terms of its responsibility. It has to catch up. There aren’t many ethical traders out there and big companies are usually exploitative to some degree. This is a big issue as far as we’re concerned.
Tell us about the mining communities that you work with…
We have a very personal relationship with everyone involved with Cred. I visit our mining communities every six months so that I can catch up and see how things are going. There are only five mining communities in the fairtrade operation, there’s Oro Verde, three in Peru and one in Bolivia. We deal with two of the Peruvian mines.
The miners are amazing people. When you actually look at where the mines are located they’re miles from anywhere. You can see what I mean if you look at the Google Earth map on the Cred website. It’s tough up there but people that are looking for work in Peru go to these communities to work and to have security. We make sure that these places are fair, safe and sustainable.
So things have improved for these communities with Cred’s help?
Before, miners would have been paid a fraction of the price. Cred pays at least 98% of the market value for the precious materials that they mine and a social premium on top of that. We’re helping with education, healthcare, building houses, schools, clinics and football pitches. We don’t want to see miners exploited by traders and this is often the case in many communities.
When people find out where the things that they wear come from, and the exploitation that’s involved in their production, they are outraged. I want to make a difference and to set very high standards in the way businesses are run. This isn’t always profitable but it’s about running a business with integrity. We’re trying to change jewellery but the real concern in terms of what Cred is doing is that the public don’t know anything about the industry. No one knows that there’s a choice between an exploitative product and an ethical one.
How do you ensure that Cred’s high standards are maintained?
If you genuinely have a good and responsible supply chain it’s policed by a third party auditing system. You can’t audit yourselves and just say that you’re ethical. Usually companies that do that just aren’t. We are the only people that are third party audited, which is sort of shocking in terms of what the rest of the industry is up to but it means we are proactive and transparent about our ethical standards. We’re trying to change the way in which people think about jewellery. I mean, if you knew that your wedding ring, the very symbol of your love for one another was made by people who are basically slaves, the whole thing lacks integrity, doesn’t it?
How do you see the future of ethical jewellery unfolding? Do you think Cred’s work is the start of a revolution?
Well the issue is that it’s about choice. There are plenty of people that don’t care. We’d love for young, professional people who are responsible and caring to take an interest in Cred and to choose to be ethical in their approach to buying jewellery. People are more aware about the sustainability of the planet, they know that the Rolexes of this world, for example, have something to answer for and Cred’s definitely not here to preach, we just want to reach out to people and other jewellery brands and make fairtrade available to everyone.
There’s financial pressure on people to go for the cheaper option too, it’s not easy for young people and no one responds to having ideas thrust at them. What’s great is that there’s a film being made about the gold industry at the moment. The filmmakers approached us and asked us to take part and travelled round the world to gather the facts, intending to leave it to people to make their own minds up about what’s going on with gold.
What can you tell us about the film?
It’s fantastic. We need stuff like this to really hit the airwaves. Our story is very unique and lots of other companies would love to use it as a marketing tool to give them an edge. The film explores this and the choice that people have. We’ve been doing what we do for a long time and we call ourselves ‘the original fairtrade jeweller’. Unlike some companies who use a small percentage of ethically produced materials and claim to be ethical, we use nothing but. This means we’re one of the main characters in the film, which is all about giving people the facts without sensationalism and uncovering the reality of practices.
What does fairtrade mean to you, personally?
Bringing clarity and responsibility to the supply chain. Cred have done something amazing in creating the first fairtrade silver products in the world. We work with our Nepalese cooperative and our designer Annabel Panes to produce 100% Fairtrade pieces. We are unique, create high-quality, fairly produced jewellery and we want people to enjoy that, to enjoy knowing where that jewellery comes from.
Cred can create anything from the resources that we use and a positive and personal customer experience is something I work very hard to deliver. People are into vintage and all sorts of styles of jewellery, the great thing about how we work is that we can create these things fairly.
What are Cred’s plans for this year and for the future?
I’ll be visiting mines in Tanzania and Kenya in the first week of May and, developing the gold market to make it as ethical as possible is next for Cred. Bringing this story and how the industry currently operates to light is important, and we hope that others will be working with us and going 100% fairtrade so that each stage of processing and creating jewellery is responsible and helps people all over the world. We’re getting there, it’s just about getting people to take notice of what we do and what others don’t and offering people who buy jewellery the knowledge and most importantly, the choice.