IMPROVING TRANSPARENCY IN SUPPLY CHAINS
BY MARY HIGONNET
From October 28th until November 12th, more than 190 world leaders will converge on Glasgow, along with thousands of negotiators, government representatives and businesses for COP26, the United Nations climate change conference. What, you ask, is the connection between global emissions and jewellery? As it turns out, everything.
Juliane Kippenberg, associate director in the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), spoke with me recently about her research and also shared her views on the limitations of the Kimberley Process (KP), both of which are not only relevant to the jewellery industry as a whole but connect to COP26 goals.
While the Kimberley Process is an important step in the right direction, Juliane cautions that its emphasis on conflict is exclusionary to the detriment of countries that are technically at peace, but under the yoke of repressive or oppressive regimes. Another drawback of the KP is its sole focus on rough diamonds. Consequently, it leaves a far-reaching international network populated by refineries, cutters, polishers, manufacturing centres and later, traders (to name a few) unchecked. Lastly, the Kimberley Process makes no allusion to environmental due diligence in any way, shape, or form.
As fascinating as diamonds are, I’m more of a coloured stones groupie myself, (original, I know) so I asked Juliane how we could learn from the Kimberley Process to bring the plethora of coloured gemstones into the fold of human rights and environmental due diligence. To address this issue, Human Rights Watch is calling for the implementation of the OECD’s due diligence guidance for minerals, not a modified version of the Kimberley Process. We can still ask ourselves, however, if it is better to start “small” with a targeted initiative like the Kimberley Process or to push for a more densely packed smörgåsbord of criteria including human rights, traceability, published audits, environmentally conscious mining, etc. Juliane pointed out to me that environmental due diligence is making its way into the legal framework supporting dialogues on human rights and this is where the OECD and the United Nations standards come in and by extension, COP26. The OECD is currently integrating environmental concerns into its guidelines (OECD Minerals Guidance)1 and climate change is being explicitly addressed in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.2
Let's not leave precious metals out of the conversation; Juliane explained that often the weakest link in the supply chain for gold was as early in the process as the refineries. Once a precious metal, or stone for that matter, leaves its source country, vogue la galère.3 We all know the importance of a stone’s origin to estimate value: Kashmir, Burma, Colombia, etc., but little can be known of that same stone’s trajectory after it’s been unearthed. The same can be said for precious metals. One caveat Juliane was careful to point out is to remember that opacity is not synonymous with abuse (human, environmental, or otherwise) and that It’s crucial to keep in mind that different gemstones and metals have their own market specificities.
But even if the situation may seem bleak, there is hope, and we are moving towards change. Consumers are asking more questions, and many major international brands are endeavouring to increase the transparency of their supply chains. For greater detail on this I strongly urge you to read the report Juliane co-authored with Human Rights Watch colleague, Jo Becker, “Sparkling Jewels, Opaque Supply Chains.”4
This brings us to efforts of the industry to redress the situation such as the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) whose self-proclaimed mission is “to be the recognised standards and certification organisation for supply cha integrity and sustainability in the global jewellery and watch industry.”5 While Juliane has reservations about the stringency of the RJC’s Code of Practices, the council has a broad membership (979 members, to be precise, according to their website), which is encouraging. Many of their 14 founding members are well known and include Cartier, Tiffany & Co., the National Association of Goldsmiths (UK), Diamond Trading Company (a.k.a. De Beers), to name a few.6 It's no surprise, then, that Cartier and Kering along with the RJC co-created the Watch and Jewellery Initiative 2030, 2030 in reference to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030.7 The initiatives’ goal is to “build climate resilience, preserving resources and fostering inclusiveness."
Although there are lots of thrilling stories of cursed jewels for you bookworms and gossip junkies out there, no one wants to think of their family heirloom or favourite jewel as “tainted” and we certainly shouldn’t make each other feel guilty for wanting to buy or wear something whose history can’t be easily explained. We must, however, fuel a discussion with our peers that will help put traceability and transparency at the top of industry priorities so as to not only do better for the world but to take a more active role in the corporate social responsibility conversation for those we leave in it.
1) https://www.oecd.org/corporate/mne/mining.htm (2) https://www.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/WopiFrame.aspx?sourcedoc=/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf&action=default&DefaultItemOpen=1 (3) the shit hits the fan (4) https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/11/24/sparkling-jewels-opaque-supply-chains/jewelry-companies-changing-sourcing (5) https://www.responsiblejewellery.com/about/history/ (6) https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda
Read more about COP 26