By Whitney Sielaff
wsielaff@nationaljeweler.com

It wasn't long ago that Americans were exploited by Europe for our rich natural resources. In the heyday of colonialism, it was standard operating procedure for powerful nations to divvy up the world and its spoils, with little interest in the well-being of the peoples they dominated.

!!!NJ Headshot You'll likely recall that we disliked being despoiled to such an extent that we rose up against and ultimately expelled the world's leading military power at the time, England. What's more, England was one of the more humanitarian superpowers. While England exploited North America as a location for planting colonies, Spain, for instance, simply decimated the indigenous populations it encountered in South America in its lust for gold.

Unfortunately, the lust for gold and exploitation of weaker countries for their resources—whether gold, diamonds or other commodities—by the powerful remains alive and well. It's an abhorrent aspect of modern civilization that we as individuals, not to mention as an industry, should deplore and condemn.

Our industry's movement toward "fair trade" gold and "conflict-free" gemstones should be applauded as a first step. But it remains woefully short of a fully acceptable solution. Recent political developments such as African "benefication" show that those in exploited areas are wising up. They won't be as easily duped as they've been, allowing developed nations to walk in and walk off with their riches.

Rectifying conditions between developing and developed nations is a difficult and case-by-case process. The current turmoil in Libya is an example. That country's rich oil reserves are of globally strategic importance, as witnessed in the chaos last week in equities markets. But even in a world marked by America's Wilsonian propensity toward interventionist policing of the internal affairs of sovereign states when our interests are at stake, international politics and relations mandate a cautious approach to such powers.

Exploitation, however, doesn't always take the form of intervention. Indeed, it much more commonly involves commercial dealings that may be prima facie acceptable to both buyers and sellers. That, of course, does not make such dealings morally appropriate.

While there are certainly circumstances that are of such gravity that they have the ability to affect global well-being, such as arms limitations  and flow of free trade, etc., down-low patronizing of commerce that supports human rights violations is simply wrong. The fine jewelry trade needs to retain a focused vigilance on the sourcing of its component metals and gemstones to elevate the appropriateness of commercial processes. Just because we can get away with being a bully doesn't mean we should be one.






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