I never set about wanting to get into the jewellery
industry. It was always about being a campaigner and
advocate for the poor.
I started the business because I recognised that "trade
not aid" is the best way of alleviating poverty.
My childhood gave me a natural empathy for the
marginalised. It took my finding faith in God for that
empathy to find its way into practical action. Poverty can appear
to be utterly hopeless, but it's not if you hold a faith
We wanted to do a fair-trade business, I and a
few others. Arts and crafts didn't sell very well, but jewellery
did, and we ended up focusing on that: a divine accident, but the
scales of poverty and exploitation in the jewellery trade are huge.
They're even more extreme by virtue of the fact that you're dealing
with extremely valuable commodities. The London Bullion Market
Association estimates that it's worth $US 290 billion to the global
economy. There are over 100 million people dependent on small-scale
gold-mining, on a dollar-a-day economy.
That's the scale of the economic injustice in the gold
industry. These extremely valuable commodities create
extreme amounts of wealth for the minority, while the overwhelming
majority, the small-scale miners, are not even getting the crumbs
under the table. The Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely right
to declare war on immoral banking.
The only player in town, at the moment,
addressing this with any credibility is the Fairtrade movement.
Can jewellery be ethically produced? As with
all parts of life, yes and no. I can honestly say when I first
started in the business in 1996, there was no ethical jewellery
being sold anywhere in the UK. But over the past ten years, we have
seen a big change in the industry, with more traceable sources for
gold, diamonds, and gemstones coming into the market, and a greater
understanding of the complexities in the jewellery supply chain.
Fairtrade gold has been a very significant part of this ethical
revolution in jewellery.
I'm a social entrepreneur, so the most creative
part of the jewellery industry for me is the creation of
transparent and traceable supply chains that drive real value back
to the small artisan producers. I'm currently working on developing
a supply chain of Greenland Ruby from the hands of local Inuit
people. If we're successful, it will be the most beautiful ruby in
I've been to Greenland, Congo, Peru, Columbia,
Kenya, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, India, the US, Mexico - all over.
Because it's always related to mining, I visit places off the
beaten track, where I actually get to see the most extraordinary
things - deserts, savannah, the Arctic.
My work in Congo was a one-off piece of work
this year, alongside Peace Direct and the Centre for Conflict
Resolution. They asked me to visit the small-scale mining sites,
meet the miners, and advise about forming a small-scale gold-mining
association for peace and development.
It was an amazing trip. I was able to witness
first-hand the devastation that the conflict has brought to peoples
lives - the direct link between the conflict and the gold used to
fund the conflict. But, most importantly, I saw local people
working together for peace, justice, and reconciliation, and using
gold- mining as a means of achieving this. A truly hope-filled
Mining companies, financiers, stock markets,
bankers - we're persuading them to change by doing it
differently, and demonstrating that it can be done differently.
And telling the consumers to change their purchasing
habits. Consumer pressure is the only way it will happen.
Bankers are deaf to moral arguments. Consumers, the average person
in the street, are a different matter. They understand what it is
to be exploited by the invisible power-brokers. People understand
it, and they're willing to make the change when we give them the
It's quite simple: it's our choice, what we
choose to purchase. The complexity is implementing that. My book
Making Trouble tries to show what it took to create the
The Church doesn't get how powerful it is. If
it did, it would be a lot more effective than it is. Pope Francis's
opening up unused church buildings for the homeless; the Archbishop
of Canterbury's calling for credit unions to reach every community
in the country with economic justice - it's unrivalled. There's not
an institution in the country that can match that.
Very practically, it's the Church that will
flip the gold market, because it's in every community in the
country. You imagine every church promoting Fairtrade wedding
rings. Job done. The impact on small-scale mining communities would
The wedding ring, the iconic symbol of love and
marriage, is the gold purchase that can change the entire face of
the jewellery industry. We are going to the market with a very
simple request. We want 50,000 rings to be exchanged in wedding
ceremonies next year. That will take half a ton of Fairtrade gold,
and mean that $1 million of Fairtrade premium will go back to
small-scale marginalised communities in South America and
We're asking the Church to lead on the
narrative. It's the place where many people get married.
(I could do with them being a little more proactive and getting
back to me. Ecclesiastical time is a very different thing from
everyone else's time.)
Bringing God into these negoti-ations is the only way
you can cut through the bullshit, because the Church is
the only functioning institution in some of these parts of the
Native people instantly get this. My first trip
to Greenland, I was with a couple of Inuit guys, and we prayed just
before I checked-in at the airport. They instantly got the fact
that God is the God of the land and the people, so why wouldn't you
invoke his blessing on this business? I'm off to Santa Fe next week
to meet a Pueblo Christian Elder. He's doing a sweat; so it will be
my first native American sweat-lodge - very interesting; and I'm
going to lend my support to a Fairtrade mine there.
I wear some jewellery, all with significance. I
value beautifully sourced and beautifully hand-created pieces. I
still wear the very first silver bangle we had made in Nepal, a
Mauritanian bangle, a silver ring on a chain from a street kid I
met in Ethiopia, a hand-carved whale-bone Inuit drummer from
Greenland, and, of course, my two wedding rings - given by the same
Without my wife, Ruth, and the kids, I wouldn't
have anyone to bring me back down to earth and ridicule my daily
indulgences. The kids still can't work out why anyone would be
interested in what I do, as I am so boring.
As a child, I wanted to be an actor and a
writer; so I guess I managed at least 50 per cent of my
dream. I'm still waiting for a call from Quentin Tarantino,
The most important choice I've made was to follow
Christ. Simple. I had an encounter with him when I was 18
or 19. It was very real, visceral, tangible call, and I knew it was
Jesus. I'd been baptised and confirmed, but I'd dismissed it as a
social irrelevance. I was working in the theatre then, which was
pretty anti-Christian, and my girlfriend and my friends weren't
Christians. But I was very clear it was Jesus, and knew what he was
saying to me.
I have no regrets. Even the biggest mistakes
have offered me an opportunity to reflect on my weaknesses and my
humanity, and learn more about what is important in life.
If my kids are still talking to me when they leave
home, I'll consider that to be something worthy of
Jember Teferra, the community development
activist in the slums of Ethiopia, was a true inspiration to me,
one of the most wonderful individuals I have ever had the privilege
My favourite place is the British Isles. I
really do live in a stunningly beautiful and mystical part of the
Favourite books: The Kingdom of God is
Within You by Leo Tolstoy, and On the Road by Jack
I love the Gospel of John. My least favourite
bit? I cannot confess to reading the Book of Numbers very
I love listening to birdsong. It's the closest
to angelic singing there is.
I get angry when I watch the news and witness political
I'm happiest when I'm at home. Apart from that,
when I am out on retreat or pilgrimage around Britain. Bliss.
If I don't pray every day, I feel incomplete
and internally uncomfortable, but I don't often pray for much: I'd
rather contemplate the Divine than present a list of wishes.
I'd choose to be locked in a church with St
Columba. He was a towering figure of the early British
Church. Learning from him the simple rhythms of prayer and daily
encounter with Christ would be challenging, but liberating, I'm
Greg Valerio was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Making Trouble: Fighting for fair-trade jewellery is published
by LionHudson, £8.99 (CT
Bookshop £8.10 -Use code CT440 ).