IN DEPTH: CSR in the UK jewellery industry

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Why it’s time for the industry to sit up and be more responsible.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a growing part of the day-to-day function of many jewellery companies – not just the big players. Kathryn Bishop hears from the companies already building CSR into their daily routines and outlines the findings of a CSR study focused on Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.

Do you have a staff handbook outlining the policies and benefits of your company? Have you ever worked to raise money for a local charity, changed your energy supplier to be more efficient or invested in training to improve individual skills? Are Fairtrade metals part of your remit and do you recycle your company’s waste? If so, then you are already partaking in just some aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Those three little letters are becoming ever-more important in the day-to-day workings of companies in the UK jewellery industry; no longer is it just about the larger firms asserting what they do for their staff and proving the provenance of their products. A growing number of smaller firms and individual designers are working to implement CSR within their businesses. The question is, just what is considered CSR and how are companies making it part of their day-to-day work?

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CSR IN PRACTICE
When it comes to CSR, a starting point for many firms is the use of natural resources and addressing utility bills. At Birmingham manufacturer Hockley Mint, CSR has been on the agenda since 2008. “It has been a gradual process of learning and experimenting with the latest technological advances in lighting and heating,” says managing director Gary Wroe. “We were aware of the costs involved in setting up such schemes but the long term savings have been the main drivers.”

In terms of energy resources, the company partakes in rainwater harvesting for its toilets and manufacturing processes and recently managed to fill its 36,000 litre underfloor tanks.

According to Wroe, since taking greater strides in the realm of CSR, money has been saved across the business and staff are more aware of their consumption. Next on the agenda is an assessment of the Hockley Mint building, to help deduce the possibility of improving its boilers, air conditioning and lighting. Its staff are also encouraged to discuss where they think positive changes can be made, and this has led to the creation of an in-house team who are responsible for Hockley Mint’s CSR.
“These are members of staff taken from different areas in the business [who] have so far completed staff satisfaction surveys, set up employee forum meetings and delivered a communication strategy for employees,” says Wroe. “They are now looking at overhauling our appraisal system and implementing a non-cash reward system.”

At F. Hinds, CSR has become an integral part of its daily function. “We have noticed that corporate social responsibility seems to be construed as window dressing for the sake of PR [for some companies],” says F. Hinds director Andrew Hinds. “As a family-based company with consistent consideration for all aspects of our company, we believe we have always been as socially responsible as we possibly can. We just try to be normal human beings acting responsibly rather than doing something because we think it will make us look good.”

F. Hinds’ wider CSR efforts include the support of numerous British charities through initiatives such as fundraising cycle rides to Paris, charity balls and the sponsorship of football teams.

Other elements of its CSR practices include simple procedures such as recycling watch batteries and waste, the installation of LED lighting in a bid to reduce its stores’ carbon footprint to achieve environmentally-friendly goals, and charging 5p for carrier bags at its Welsh stores.

F. Hinds has also become a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a not-for-profit, standards setting and certification organisation focused on the jewellery supply chain from mine to retail. Members of the RJC are independently audited against the RJC Code of Practices – an international standard of responsible business practices for diamonds, gold and platinum group metals. Bespoke jewellery designer Harriet Kelsall is also a member of the RJC, becoming one of the first independent businesses to be audited and accepted.

Says Kelsall of her RJC certification: “Whist the day-to-day processes didn’t change too much at first, we involved everybody in the process of getting certified and everybody enjoyed the responsibilities of making sure their area was up to scratch and we made several positive changes as a result.”

There were many things the company learnt about CSR during the process of becoming RJC certified – which involves a third-party audit of the business – such as keeping chemicals in the correct containers and being more secure with paperwork containing personal details. But, Kelsall says, the positives of CSR have become apparent. “From [certification] forward we have been thinking about things in a more ordered way from the start. I launched this business from my kitchen table and it grew pretty organically, so the RJC process helped us to tidy things up a bit and get things straighter.”

Away from the business, Kelsall is involved with local schools and regularly offers her advice and shares her experiences with women’s business networks. This, she says, is simply doing things right rather than trying to tick particular CSR boxes. “The thing with CSR is doing what feels right to you and your team,” she states. “There is always more we can all do to help others – for example trying to source our materials as ethically as we can or at least start to move things in that direction. These are important things that can change people’s lives and we at the top of businesses need to take these things seriously.”

THE INDUSTRY’S OPINION
As before, the letters CSR alone can be enough to have jewellers and companies fretting about the costs involved with becoming a ‘better’ business. Even when a company is not officially audited by a body such as the RJC, the changes that it can make to its business practices can still come at a cost; whether installing systems to reduce energy bills, changing over to recycled packaging or doing more to support staff with further training.

A recent study into firms in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter, carried out by researchers Professor Marylyn Carrigan, Dr Caroline Moraes and Dr Carmela Bosangit of the Centre for Trust and Ethical Behaviour at Coventry University, revealed an array of opinions relating to CSR in the jewellery industry. The group interviewed a cross-section of individuals from jewellery companies of varying sizes operating in the Quarter, and concludes that the industry is going to have to become more responsible for its actions due to growing regulatory pressures and demands for better practice from a range of stakeholders.
According to Professor Carrigan, many firms are engaged in CSR practices already but the majority of small jewellers still need to change their practices, particularly around demanding more transparency and evidence of integrity in the supply chain.
The research revealed that consumers expect jewellery firms and designers to have “done the right thing” on their behalf already, so that when they buy jewellery, they can do so without the worry of how it was manufactured or sourced. According to Carrigan, “businesses need to respond to that expectation”.

From the research findings, it was clear that issues relating to diamonds were most prevalent on the radar of jewellery companies, as well as the provenance of precious metals and gemstones. “Some of the firms were very aware of the issues around diamonds,” says Carrigan. “This was interpreted as being able to state that their supplier guaranteed provenance in line with the Kimberley Process, and only sourcing through reputable suppliers.”

The use of precious metals which, in most cases, have been recycled numerous times, has become a grey area for many jewellery companies, treading the line between being responsible by sourcing recycled goods but not being able to confirm the exact origins of the metal.

However, when it came to Fairtrade metals and practices, concerns with costs were raised. One interviewee told Professor Carrigan and the team: “From a fair trade point of view, I don’t understand it enough. I’m not qualified. I get Fairtrade coffee beans, I get Fairtrade bananas [and] all the other Fairtrade stuff. But I can afford that. At the moment what people can’t seem to afford is the uplifting cost of Fairtrade metal.”

With a view to daily CSR practices, Professor Carrigan, Dr Moraes and Dr Bosangit found that companies operating in the Quarter have varying approaches to CSR. The larger firms were more structured in their approach and it was often embedded in their activities – for example having a staff handbook detailing policies and codes of conduct –while smaller firms were less structured but were very supportive of staff development and training. Some companies were also unaware that their actions, such as gender equality and refusing to deal with unofficial traders, came under the umbrella of CSR, and instead recognised these simply as responsible business behaviours.

However, Professor Carrigan warns that many of the smaller firms surveyed did not feel accountable for the jewellery industry’s main CSR efforts. One of the individuals interviewed for the study said: “There’s not really a central voice for it [CSR] … I think it is quite a new issue so it’s still very ad-hoc but small businesses have definitely fallen under the radar of large companies.”

On a more positive note, the research did show that a growing number of new entrants to the industry, from new designers to larger companies, were very much interested in CSR in relation to sourcing metals and gemstones responsibly, as well as reusing or recycling old items of jewellery, but they were hindered by barriers such as sizeable upfront costs.

Auditing was also a concern for smaller companies, in particular the costs associated with it. While the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) offers a reduced cost for jewellery firms to be audited in relation to their CSR practices – something Kelsall recommends others explore – Carrigan and the team found that smaller companies felt costs were stopping them from fully complying with a set code of CSR practices.

Further, consumer interest and awareness of the jewellery industry and the provenance of goods, metals and stones was a major point of aggravation for many of the individuals that took part in the research. One respondent said there was little evidence to suggest the general public was interested in CSR issues related to the jewellery industry — instead they were more concerned with the authenticity of their purchase and its value. As a result, says Corrigan, it is easy to understand why some companies, in particular smaller firms or individual designers, are reluctant to invest in improving or developing their CSR practices.

A final comment from the research was that those interviewed felt it was down to the industry as a whole to make the push through regulation and support for small firms to become compliant with CSR practices, rather than waiting for the consumer to pull the industry to act more responsibly and transparently.

JEWELLERS’ RESPONSIBILITY
In response to such discussion and opinion, the BJA has been working to establish a framework for the UK industry to help it cherry-pick elements of CSR that best fit with individual company needs.

In February this year, the BJA held a seminar to discuss the potential of implementing workable and sustainable CSR policies for the jewellery industry, offering opinions from industry leaders and company directors. The BJA’s chief executive Simon Rainer says the association has long supported the call for the industry to introduce a workable CSR framework that suits the needs of jewellery companies. As a result, the BJA is suggesting that the UK industry adopts not CSR but Jewellers’ Social Responsibility (JSR), with an agenda better tailored to the requirements and understanding of jewellery firms.

“By the very nature of its title, the word ‘corporate’ perhaps implies that only larger companies need to be adopting such practices,” Rainer states. “I hope that the adoption of the term ‘Jewellers’ Social Responsibility’ becomes a more user-friendly description, which I hope will resonate with companies both large and small.”

As part of its plans for JSR and the creation of a workable framework, the BJA has outlined the benefits of JSR and the main factors to consider on internal and external levels. In terms of benefits, Rainer suggests that JSR will not only improve companies’ reputations, but their relationships with suppliers and the productivity of their employees, who in turn will have a better understanding of their own business responsibilities.

With a view to internal practices, Rainer says this is about taking a closer look at your company’s inner workings. “Review the responsibilities of managing your business and create a structure to empower your staff to take ownership of JSR maintenance,” he says. This means all aspects of a business will need examining, including training, grievance procedures, career structures, bonuses or rewards schemes, ownership of tasks, overall appearance and appraisals.

Externally, Rainer recommends getting to know national and international laws and standards relating to your area of the industry, as well as examining how your business interacts with the local community, your use of natural resources and your interaction with customers. Thereafter, a business should take a closer look at suppliers; from how well you know them to asking them about their own supply chains. “Are you really happy selling products where you may not know where the materials have come from and how the products have been assembled?,” Rainer asks. “Adopting these simple guidelines will ensure you undertake the right procedures to not only benefit your business but the UK trade.”

DOING THE RIGHT THING
It is easy to feel under pressure to ‘do the right thing’ in business when it might be costly or the benefits might not be immediate. But in the case of the UK jewellery industry and its responsibilities both in-house and locally, it appears that many companies are already on the right track. CSR, once a buzz term that many will have shrugged off as the remit of larger firms, is now inclusive and almost undifferentiated from the daily practices of firms working at all levels within the jewellery industry.

With the BJA’s plans to create a framework to make it easier to recognise and implement these efforts, there is hope that the jewellery industry can evolve to be as conscious – and conscientious – as others in its approach to work, sustainability, the environment, taking care of employees and most of all creating goods that come from trustworthy and proud businesses.

This feature was taken from the April issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue in full online, click here.
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