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14 June 2011

Jeweller wins Observer Ethical Award with his golden initiatives

Jeweller wins Observer Ethical Award with his golden initiatives

Greg Valerio, jeweller and activist has been named Global Campaigner winner of the Observer Ethical Awards 2011 for his efforts and advocacy in the fair trade jewellery industry.

Asked about his reaction to the award, Greg said, "It is an important benchmark, not just for me but for the hundreds of people involved."

In the mid-1990s Greg founded fair trade jeweller company CRED Jewellery, and initially struggled owing to the fact that at the time, fair trade jewellery was very rare.

Pushing ahead, and asking the question 'How can we do this?', he ventured to find diamonds, gemstones, silver and gold from environmentally and ethically responsible supply chains, and search for transparent mining and jewellery-making organisations.

Finding a traceable and responsible supply chain for gold and jewels proved to be difficult, but this only made him more determined. "The more problems we hit…the more inspired we got," says Greg.

Though people had claimed it impossible, in 2003 Greg found a traceable supply chain, in the form of Oro Verde, and from this partnership came a gold wedding ring that Greg could sell. From that, came another, and from that came a few more.

In 2005 Greg co-founded the Alliance for Responsible Mining, which eventually established the first Fairtrade Fairmined standard for gold, in partnership with the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation.

"CRED Jewellery and Oro Verde were the pioneers in all of this," says Greg.

CRED aimed to offer the consumer a piece of jewellery that came from an environmentally and socially responsible supply chain. Oro Verde was happy to oblige.

Over the last few years, Greg has made multiple partnerships with other fair trade jewellery companies and initiatives, and at the beginning of the year began to work with small-scale miners in Africa to implement the Fairtrade Fairmined Gold standard.

The work will help to end their exploitation as a result of illegal and informal traders and large-scale mining companies. Greg describes the collaboration of all these companies and organisations for Fairtrade and Fairmined Gold as "a beautiful synchronicity."

In response to the success of his initiatives, Greg says, "It's an absolute miracle, born from a lot of prayer and hard work on everyone's part."

Greg has a desire for the Church to get involved in practical ways, and says the relative monopoly that the Church has on weddings is a good place to start.

Greg challenges engaged couples to purchase fair trade gold weddings rings, which would result in an: overwhelming demand for more certified fair trade gold from small mining co-operations.

By doing so, says Greg, people can "progressively eliminate the social and environmental exploitation affecting the mining industry around the world."

The Church needs to advocate for more responsible mining Greg believes, and if the Church consumed the resulting fair trade jewellery, the outcome would be pivotal. Says Greg: "That's how you flip an industry."

Next month, Greg's Fairtrade work in Africa will be the focus of a documentary film with Dartmouth Films, looking at the international gold trade and the effects that the non-transparent gold industry has on human rights and the environment.

Greg is married to Ruth, who serves on the Evangelical Alliance council, and they have two daughters.

To learn more about Greg and his work, click here