TRADE ETHICS IN SWITZERLAND
Updated: Jan 18
THE GLITTERATI CO-FOUNDERS MELISSA & FAYE DISCUSS WORKING ON THE ETHICS COMMITTEE OF THE SWISS STONE DEALERS ASSOCIATION
When you think of Switzerland, the first thing that may come to mind is chocolate. And mountains, and banks and of course, watches. The Helvetic Confederation is less known for its gem and jewellery merchants. While they can seem to be an obscure group, their practices often extend beyond national borders.
Many Swiss merchants are members of the Swiss Stone Dealers Association. (Association Suisse des Négociants en Pierres Précieuses – ASNP in French or Verband der Schweizerischen Edelsteinbranche – VSE in German) an association founded in 1954. The ASNP-VSE actively works to protect its members interests by keeping them informed of current trade regulations locally and globally (i.e changes in customs regulations, anti-money laundering laws, cash transaction allowances, and much more) also intervening when necessary . ASNP-VSE is a member of UBOS (www.ubos.ch) and affiliated with CIBJO (www.cibjo.com). The ASNP-VSE's President, Vice President and Secretary are Charles Abouchar, Ronny Totah and Marc-Alain Christen, respectively, who also serve together on the foundation board of the Swiss Gemological Institute (www.ssef.ch) with Marc-Alain being its president as well as being the CFO of CIBJO. It would be an understatement to say that these three are industry veterans!
In 2018 Charles and Ronny asked for volunteer members to form a group who could potentially bring some fresh perspective to the association, incidentally, the group was charmingly dubbed “The Young Group” by our President and Vice President and later became the Ethics Committee Working Group. Always up for a challenge and a new project, we (The Glitterati founders Melissa and Faye) joined in!
The first project for the committee was to work on the creation of an ethics chart, code of conduct and revised bylaws for the association along with a procedure for mediation and arbitration in the event of infraction. One of the many roles of the ASNP-VSE is to ensure that the quality of its members are of the highest standards, and one of the only ways to do that was to provide guidelines on what those standards were to be.
The gem and jewellery trade are regularly tainted by scandal, often backed by journalism that doesn’t always tell a clear story. The result being the general public no longer trusts what goes on in our industry. Think back to when the movie Blood Diamond came out. How many times did you have to explain to a private client that their engagement ring did not contribute to financing a war. It goes without saying that the premise and the need for reform in that arena was very necessary and justified. However, a lot of the widespread information focused on the horrendous acts and not everything that was done to effect change and move forward. The Kimberley Process which «unites administrations, civil societies, and industry in reducing the flow of conflict diamonds» was established in 2000 and has been tremendously constructive for our industry. In the 20 years since its establishment, other issues have positioned themselves front and centre and it is only natural that the trade as a whole – from mine to market - do their part to the best of their ability.
Historically, our trade has always had «rules» that dictated the «correct» ways to conduct business. In fact, the term «correct» along with the famous « mazal » are probably the most commonly used terms amongst traders in our industry. "Correct" is a term most often used to describe a person or an act. “He’s very correct” or “It’s just not correct to do that”. Mazal, the traditional deal closer used by merchants for centuries, originates from the phrase Mazel Tov which translated from the Mishnaic Hebrew means constellation or destiny. Mazal, however, meaning luck comes from Yiddish. Closing a deal with a Mazal is giving your word, your honour, in our business, breaking your mazal or your word will definitely impact your destiny! For centuries, being correct, behaving correctly and not breaking a mazal was the closest you would come to an ethics chart or code of conduct in our industry. While a mazal will always be sacred, our modern world has become a place that unfortunately requires a little extra step; certain situations require things to be written down and confirmed to avoid a potentially regrettable situation.
Which brings us back to our Ethics Committee… Over the course of roughly 18 months, our group - which started out as eight and finished as a small group of four - read what seemed like every existing document related to ethics in our trade. We spent countless hours reading codes of practice, supplier codes of conduct for the majority of American and European houses and brands as well as a variety of mission statements and ethics for various other associations. We debated and discussed in meetings, group chats, emails and even had COVID Zoom sessions discussing in fastidious detail what we felt was the appropriate way to articulate clear and concise projects we could present and put to a vote at the next general assembly.
The environment of our working group was a privileged one. We were preciously mentored by our ASNP-VSE President and Vice President but with all the freedom in the world to speak our minds, disagree and come to our own conclusions individually and collectively. It goes without saying that we didn't agree on every point at first, but as time went on we found a way to align our views and create what we felt not only suited our ASNP-VSE members but what we as members of the trade could coherently abide by. Charles, our President, was often chuckling in his corner while we battled it out. His many years of experience working in different groups and associations, notably CIBJO, have taught him that working in collectivity is a process, a process he instilled in us from a healthy distance.
On a more personal note, we found the experience not only refreshing but enriching. The creation of these guidelines was so far out of our wheelhouse and regular business know-how that between the reading and the exchanges within the group, we were constantly learning new things. Considering the current climate in our trade in regard to the need and expectation for transparency, social and ethically responsible behaviour, it was a welcome challenge. In addition, our work in this group is what prompted our curiosity about CIBJO, we attended the annual congress in Bahrain as part of the Swiss delegation in November 2019, also a very interesting and enriching experience. For more on that, see our post from December 2019.
The ASNP-VSE general assembly was held September 2nd, 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland. The project was put to a vote as individual documents: ethics chart, code of conduct, revised bylaws, association regulations, and mediation and arbitration. It was a very proud moment for us when every single project passed with a unanimous YES. Soon every member of the ASNP-VSE will be able to communicate to suppliers and clients - with the use of a logo or publication of our ethics chart - that they are part of an association that has set standards, conveying trust and confidence.
We are proud to have participated in a project that holds lasting meaning, and to have taken the first steps to effecting change.