My ethical engagement dilemma

Congrats, Elisa, I hear you recently got engaged. Let’s hear the story?

My then-boyfriend, who I met while volunteering with Tearfund in Brazil, came to visit me and meet the family in the UK for two months last summer after almost a year of long-distancing. A magical two months was drawing to a close, and finally, after our last family meal at home with my mum and sister, I went to the toilet and when I got back he got down on one knee. It wasn’t too dramatic or high-profile which was perfect for me! Then we had the next day together to enjoy being engaged before he went back to Brazil, where he had to wait another six weeks before I moved out there as a missionary.

Tell us more about how you met?

We met at a non-profit organisation called Compassiva, where the Tearfund team went a few days a week to volunteer looking after refugee children while their parents had Portuguese classes. Marcos was volunteering full-time there as a Portuguese teacher and graphic designer. I saw him from afar but the first time we actually met was when I was sent to talk to him about an invitation to visit a refugee family in their home, and after that we were thrown together in various situations which meant we got to know each other more.

Did he propose with a ring?

He did propose with a ring, a second-hand vintage one we’d found in an antique shop which we bought cheaply to use temporarily. Going out and just quickly finding the perfect ring wasn’t a simple task for us because we wanted to make sure it was completely ethical – meaning free from conflict and any kind of exploitation such as slavery or child labour.

But about a week before the engagement we’d visited a relative of mine, who gave us a vintage sapphire ring with a lovely back-story from a box of family jewellery when she heard our predicament. The only problem was it was miles too big, and it also looked like it needed a little addition, so we decided to add a couple of diamonds either side of the sapphire, which meant we now had the task of sourcing ethical diamonds – hence the temporary ring.

Why is ethical so important to you?

I believe that as a Christian, I have a responsibility to use my power as a consumer responsibly. Mindless consumerism is wrong on so many levels, and one of them is that unethical modes of production hurt so many of God’s children. When I started researching ethical engagement rings, I realised just how big the problem was.

Mining for precious metals and stones obviously has an adverse impact on the environment, so even to go for an ethically mined diamond from Canada is problematic because of the impact on surrounding ecosystems. But more than that, much of the mining done for our jewellery industry isn’t done ethically at all and has a massive impact on people living in poverty, who can find themselves being used as slave or child labourers mining precious metals or stones for incredibly violent criminal warlords, for example. Even finding a ring that’s “conflict-free” isn’t enough, because the criteria to be labelled as such through the Kimberley Process isn’t particularly rigorous; it only includes rebel groups in its definition of conflict, not abusive governments, and also ignores indirect conflicts such as political corruption.

It also doesn’t even consider issues such as human trafficking, slavery or child labour.

What advice would you give to others choosing jewellery?

First of all, don’t give up! I had to make endless phone-calls, trod on endless toes asking apparently awkward questions, and as I learned more it seemed my dilemma only got bigger.

When mainstream sellers tell you their rings are conflict-free, go ahead and ask more questions! Mainstream sellers who proudly told me their rings were conflict-free then faced questions on what that meant for slaves and child labourers, and I won’t pretend they all took it well. One even told me I’d never find anyone who could guarantee me that, wishing me luck before ending the conversation.

Weigh up your options between different companies until you’ve found what you’re most comfortable with. Initially I found two tiny diamonds from a company in London which sources diamonds from a mine in Canada. I was all set to go and collect them, because I thought this was the most ethical way forward – and it is a better way than simply going to the mainstream shops. This company is called Ingle and Rhode if you’re looking for jewellery and mined diamonds without human right abuses.

But then I came across a shop that I’d recommend without hesitation: Ethica Diamonds – the only jewellery company to currently be awarded Ethical Accreditation, and highly recommended by the Good Shopping Guide.

By growing diamonds from scratch in their lab, they produce diamonds of just as high a quality as ones which took millions of years to form, while avoiding any of the issues associated with traditional mining, from human rights abuses to environmental destruction. They also sell them at a fraction of the price of mined diamonds (which lose their value upon purchase anyway). Reading through their website, I was sold.

They’re a growing family business and I was able to meet with them personally to design the alterations to my ring – without forgetting to specify that I wanted Fairtrade gold to be used for the claws holding the new diamonds. I’m so happy with the way the ring looks, but more than that, that the process was transparent.

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