• From Mines to Market – A Comprehensive Look at the Global Jewelry Industry - squïd studios

The glimmer of silver jewelry often conceals a complex and multifaceted story of extraction, production, and environmental impact. Unveiling the journey of silver, this blog post delves into the origins of our cherished jewelry, shedding light on the social, environmental, and ethical aspects of the silver mining industry.

The Silver Supply Chain in Brief

Silver, a vital component in the jewelry and electronics industries, predominantly originates from mines, many of which also extract other metals in addition to silver.

Geographically, Mexico, China, and Peru stand as the primary contributors to new silver mining [2]. The global demand for silver is on the rise, reflecting its widespread use. Yet, the spotlight on silver also unveils the challenges and ethical concerns associated with its extraction.

Environmental Impacts and Depleting Reserves

A significant portion of silver extraction (70%) involves smelting ores primarily for lead, zinc, copper, or gold (2007) [16]. The extraction of silver often involves the use of highly toxic cyanide, mirroring the practices of gold mining. Moreover, the silver content in ores is usually less than one percent, necessitating extensive mining operations and further exacerbating environmental concerns [16]. Astonishingly, despite its high production volume, silver mining has not received as much attention in terms of research and scrutiny compared to gold mining [16].

Compounding these challenges is the looming threat of depleting silver reserves. If current consumption rates persist without new deposits being discovered, global silver reserves could be exhausted by 2029 [4]. This emphasizes the urgency for sustainable practices in the silver industry.

The Human Cost of Silver Mining

Mining, an integral part of the global jewelry production, brings to light its dark side—the toll it takes on the mental health and well-being of its workers.

Historically, silver mining has been associated with forced labor, including the exploitation of Indigenous peoples. The hazardous working conditions, exposure to toxic substances, and the prevalence of occupational diseases still make mining one of the most dangerous occupations globally [10]. Over 1 million children are estimated to work in the mining industry, enduring the hazardous conditions and jeopardizing their health [3].

Visiting the mines in Potosí, Bolivia, where an estimated incredible amount of 8 million people have died, offers a firsthand glimpse into the arduous conditions miners endure. Thousands of miners, some as young as 6, work in perilous environments, facing health risks and low life expectancies. The legacy of mining diseases, like silicosis, perpetuates a cycle where sons often inherit the dangerous work of their fathers [15].

In some countries, many more people are employed in small-scale, often informal, mining than in the formal mining sector. Many of these jobs are precarious and are far from conforming with international and national labor standards. Accident rates in small-scale mines are routinely six or seven times higher than in larger operations, even in industrialized countries.

The top risks to miners in the industry include potential lung damage from exposure to particulates and dust, hearing damage due to high noise levels, and the pervasive issues of stress and fatigue arising from long hours, physically demanding tasks, and dark working environments.

Another critical facet of the human cost of silver mining is the often-overlooked mental toll on miners. Many mining companies neglect mental health as a priority, placing the burden of mental well-being solely on individual responsibility, rather than acknowledging the role organizations and managers play in providing support for worker mental health [14].

Despite the efforts in some countries, the toll of death, injury, and disease among the world’s mineworkers means that, in most countries, mining remains the most hazardous occupation when the number of people exposed to risk is taken into account.

Alternatives to Mining

Even though global silver demand escalates, the environmentally-conscious and ethical alternative of recycled silver, offering a sustainable solution to traditional mining's ecological toll, only slowly gains prominence.

In 2022, only 18% of the global silver supply hailed from recycled sources, a modest increase from 15% in 2014. Yet, this upward trajectory signals a growing industry awareness of the importance of sustainable practices.

Recycled silver presents an eco-friendly approach without mining operations, which are known for their risks to workers and environmental disruption.

Beyond preserving silver reserves, recycling curtails the use of hazardous substances like cyanide associated with conventional mining. Additionally, the energy demands for recycling are generally lower than the resource-intensive extraction and refining processes in mining.

At squïd studios, we are committed to transparency and ethical sourcing. Our 925 silver chain material is obtained from a transparent supplier in France, dedicated to sustainability. While the supplier has not completed the full transition to recycled silver, they achieved an 80% rate of recycled silver in 2023 and aspire to reach 90% in 2024 [4].

Choosing a supplier that values sustainability and transparency is vital not only for minimizing the environmental impact of silver mining but also for steering clear of collaborations involving harsh working conditions. The gradual uptick in recycled silver adoption reflects a positive shift in the jewelry industry, aligning with consumer preferences for sustainability. As the world acknowledges the environmental and ethical impact of consumer choices, embracing recycled silver emerges as a pivotal step toward a more responsible and ethical future.

Certificates and Initiatives for Change

As we would currently still not be able meet the global demand even if we recycled all readily accessible metals and minerals [12], and mining could, if under better working conditions, be a valued workplace for some, there is a need for shift not just in the amount of silver we recycle, but also in the mining industry and its working conditions.

While many certificates concerned with improving the working conditions in the silver mining industry are heavily critized, efforts to combat child labor and improve working conditions are still the best we can do. Child labor-free zones, pioneered in countries like Ghana, the Philippines, Kenya, and Uganda, showcase a multi-sectoral approach to address various forms of child labor [3]. Outside the jewellery industry, initiatives like Fairphone advocate for fair and ethical mining practices, emphasizing the need for change across industries.

Until humane working conditions in mining are achieved, maximizing recycling efforts remains crucial.

Towards Ethical Shores: Navigating the Complex Currents of Silver Sourcing and the Jewelry Industry

The story behind our silver jewelry is intertwined with environmental challenges, ethical dilemmas, and human struggles. As consumers, we bear the responsibility to demand transparency and sustainable practices from the industry. At squïd studios, we take pride in our commitment to ethical sourcing and transparency, aiming to pave the way for a more responsible and sustainable silver industry. Let us collectively strive for a future where the sparkle of our jewelry doesn't cast shadows on the well-being of our planet and its people.


[1] https://www.silverinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/World-Silver-Survey-2023.pdf

[2] https://www.silverinstitute.org/mine-production/

[3] https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---ipec/documents/publication/wcms_782888.pdf

[4] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20120418-no-silver-bullet

[5] https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---asia/---ro-bangkok/---ilo-manila/documents/publication/wcms_720743.pdf

[6] https://www.learningforjustice.org/podcasts/teaching-hard-history/american-slavery/silver-resistance-and-the-evolution-of-slavery-in-the-west

[7] https://www.insidemydesk.com/lapubs/miningtrends.pdf

[8] https://www.npr.org/2013/11/30/247967228/thousands-of-children-as-young-as-6-work-in-bolivias-mines

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4739650/

[10] https://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/gb/docs/gb286/pdf/tmmi-r.pdf

[11] https://www.ilo.org/safework/areasofwork/hazardous-work/WCMS_356567/lang--en/index.htm

[12] https://www.icmm.com/en-gb/mining-metals/why-we-need-mining

[13] https://www.trainanddevelop.ca/blog/top-5-risks-to-a-worker-in-the-mining-industry/

[14] https://www.brainzmagazine.com/post/could-the-mining-industry-do-more-for-employee-mental-wellbeing

[15] https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/bolivien-zum-silberberg-von-potosi-100.html

[16] Schmuck – Liebesbeweis, Broterwerb und Ausbeutung

The image was created using the AI tool DALL·E 2.

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