EXCLUSIVE OPINION: Signet CEO responds to Human Rights Watch report

The subject of responsible sourcing in the jewellery industry has been in the spotlight in recent weeks following the publication of a report on the topic by Human Rights Watch. 

Here, Signet chief executive officer, Virginia C. Drosos, details how Signet strives to drive integrity in the global jewellery supply chain.

Words by Virginia C. Drosos

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Jewellery, for me, like many customers, is all about a meaningful moment, about a relationship, about self-expression. At Signet Jewelers, we have the privilege of selling a product that inherently carries a strong emotional attachment and can be the conduit to a customer’s most memorable moments. It is also one of the key reasons that the responsible sourcing of the gold, diamonds and other precious metals and stones must be a priority for everyone along the global jewelry supply chain.

Signet believes that visibly leading in the area of responsible sourcing is essential for our success, and our industry’s growth. Customers want transparency. They respect integrity. They care about the story behind what they purchase.  We must respect that, and work together to give it to them.

As part of our efforts to take the lead in ensuring the integrity of the global jewellery supply chain, Signet created the award-winning Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols.  Mandatory for all Signet suppliers, these Protocols incorporate best-in-class principles that ensure Signet is leading the continuous improvement in the integrity of the jewelry global supply chain with an emphasis on transparency and the protection of human rights.

Certified Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) membership is also a requirement for all Signet jewellery suppliers. RJC membership reinforces Signet’s industry leadership position on responsible practices and requirements in the areas of human rights, health and safety, and labour practices throughout the global Signet supply chain.

Recently, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-profit organization, released a report on ‘The Hidden Cost of Jewellery’.

In the spirit of transparency and cooperation, Signet and other members of the jewelry industry engaged openly and extensively with HRW. Unfortunately, the report contains language chosen more to criticize our industry rather than provide constructive recommendations.

In particular, we believe HRW’s assessment of the RJC standards is incorrect. We would welcome HRW to engage more constructively with the RJC and other participants in the jewelry industry.

Unwavering product integrity is fundamental for Signet – and we believe it should be for the entire industry.  Going forward, Signet urges everyone with a stake in our industry to join us in this diligent pursuit of excellence and transparency.

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9 Comments

  1. A. Tivon said:

    While HRW and other news bodies rush to make the jewellery industry the ‘whipping boy’ of their reports – not to say our industry is infallible or worse than many other industries – what they seem to forget (or choose to ignore) is that the vast majority of gold is mined by huge companies like Rio Tinto or Anglo Gold and gems are still largely controlled by De Beers and other such large players. Furthermore the vast amount of gems and gold are procured through refiners like Johnson Matthey or through a tender process for parcels. There is no use is pointing fingers at small or even large retailers saying you are colluding or guilty of some crime where to be honest the majority have strict standards of procurement. To effect real change, discussions should be held and changes should be made at source i.e. The refiners, the mines, etc. Resting the blame and the burden on the small retailers and suppliers is the equivalent of blaming the shortcoming of the NHS on the doctors & nurses who do their utmost to care for their patients.

  2. Alan Frampton said:

    Dear Virginia C. Drosos,

    Thank you for participating in the debate about responsible sourcing. The issue is that there are about 40 million artisans miners in the world earning a few dollars a day. They are kept in poverty by the opaque supply chain in the jewellery industry. The problem with the RJC is that the standard is very weak when compared to other industries. You must be very embarrassed that there is more traceability on a tomato being sold in a supermarket for pennies than a £10,000 diamond ring in one of your stores. You can not tell your customers where the gold came from or where the majority of your stones come from. As an industry the supply chain management is at least 40 years behind fresh produce . Signet as one of the leading companies should be giving us details of how they are treating the miners who produce the raw materials that your products are made from. We don’t want retoric with no meaning we need mortal leadership that makes a difference.
    Kind regards,
    Alan Frampton

    • A G Procter said:

      According to their CSR report and their filings with the SEC in the USA, Signet CAN verify the sources of over 99% of their gold as coming from certified sources – mainly through the LBMA, whose refineries are audited every year.They also have responsible standards for gold, diamonds and now silver which require their suppliers to comply with OECD standards of supply chain due diligence too. So Signet is really doing something, most others are not – yet.

      • Alan Frampton said:

        They hide behind weak accreditation , saying certified sources…..The LBMA…..so please tell me which country does the material originate in….to give transparency….you can’t…..what you are quoting is the RJC chain of custody which only certifies that you are obeying the laws in the country you are doing business. This is greenwash and if you go into a Signet shop and ask ” where does your gold come from?” they can only go back to an RJC supplier and the scent goes cold. A normal Sainsburys store have 30,000 different products and they can tell you where everything came from. If we want the jewellery industry to be more professional it must address its supply chain management.

        • A G Procter said:

          They are not hiding. The gold supply chain is not linear (like, say, bananas). LBMA refiners, who refine over 80% of all the world’s gold, know the mine sources, and they are audited under the LBMA standard). These refiner mix these mine sources together at the refinery (like FSC certified timber, paper and Fairtrade coffee, whereby you don’t need to trace the paper to an individual tree or coffee plantation): it’s “mass balance” certification – all the gold ore is validated as responsibly produced into the refinery from the mines, so all the gold can be certified out of the refinery. Signet doesn’t need to know every mine source of gold, providing the gold they buy is LBMA certified. And that’s good for the entire industry. Fully traceable “closed pipe” supply chains are fine, but they are a very small proportion of the industry and will remain so given the structure of any “mass balance” supply chain like precious metals, timber, coffee, etc.

  3. Nancy said:

    I have worked in the jewellery industry for 40 years and I applaud Signet for taking the lead in establishing responsible practices in our supply chains and protecting consumer confidence and trust. Signet helped found the RJC (whose standard is accredited by ISEAL, so it’s very robust), and are also involved in trying to drive improvement in the Kimberley Process. They also directly support artisanal mining programs through the Diamond Development Initiative as well as gold through another leading collaboration. No other jewellery retailer is doing as much. So well done Signet! Signet are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  4. Katherine Chappell said:

    Katherine Chappell – February 21, 2018

    Dear Virginia.
    I have had several meeting with David Bouffard (before your appointment) concerning the ethics of our industry and a progressive way forward. I disagree that you are leading the way; however Signet is in a unique position, as a major retailer on the high street to do so. Along with Columbia Gem House of the USA, we have offered our services to your company for over 10 years. We are able to supply fully traceable, calibrated coloured gemstones. However, as yet not one of your suppliers has approached us. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor will the jewellery industry change quickly but there are people in the ‘ethics’ industry that can assist and most have left their opinions on this forum. I would strongly recommend Signet engages with them. It is better to work as whole then singularly.

  5. Rachel Sweeney said:

    All the above is relevant and the point about large scale supply versus artisanal mining simply lays down a transparency challenge to traders, refiners and bullion dealers. However, the simple fact is, as an industry we need to take a long hard look at itself to survive in the 21st Century and this view from HRW – i.e. outside the trade – is yet another catalyst. Their report shines a light on real situations and human rights abuses – it’s not a matter of conjecture. What counts is how we respond to the knowledge (and lack of it) we have. It is no longer enough to say “I don’t know” and leave it at that. Sure the tone of the report is challenging but what’s positive is Human Rights Watch are engaging with companies and organisations to focus on bringing about change. Better to have a wake up call to help us get our act together than be accused of kicking the ball down the road until people don’t want to buy jewellery because they feel it’s tainted. The good news is change is possible and options are available to all of us. Check out Levin Sources blog for more
    http://www.levinsources.com/blog/jewellery-industry-responsible-sourcing-human-rights-watch

  6. Elle Hill said:

    Each retailer, wholesaler, and manufacturer that steps forward and highlights the mountains in we all wish to move in the interest of responsibly sourced materials through a supply chain with effective systems to secure integrity is a benefit to the industry. While the solutions will never remain in the hands of one business alone, harnessing the tools afforded us by technological advances to create more robust traceability and a veritable “passport” for materials is on the horizon. Trailblazers and early adopters will be the leaders and change-makers in a solution that we all emphatically support.

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