Let’s get ahead of future ethical mineral laws

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Hersey Jewellery Design’s Matthew Morrell on fair jewellery materials.

By Matthew Morrell

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act contains provisions for publicly listed companies in the US using minerals sourced from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries – an area familiar to our industry and long-plagued by violent conflict. A conflict that has claimed 5.5 million lives to date.

The minerals identified by law-makers as contributing to the violence are tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. Provisions 1502-1504 of the Act require companies to exercise due diligence, identifying then declaring (publicly) whether they use raw materials implicated in perpetuating the conflict.

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The mining sector in the Great Lakes Region of Africa is artisanal and hundreds of thousands depend on it for their livelihoods. The Dodd-Frank Act does not seek to discourage companies from doing business there, it simply sets a precedent that holds companies to account and encourages them to improve raw material traceability, backed up by regional initiatives like provision of labs equipped to carry out mineral “finger-printing”.

The provisions aim to cultivate an awareness in companies of where raw materials come from and give consumers the opportunity to decide whether to buy products from unregulated sources in DRC (the findings are filed and publicly available on company websites).

There are other benefits too. For the miner, an end to conflict and harassment and better prices for goods – especially if they participate in traceability schemes such as the NGO Pact to trace coltan, or the Washington-based Electronic Industry’s Citizenship Coalition’s chain of custody scheme for conflict-free smelters. It also means an end to a conflict that spills across borders traumatising millions and for for the governments involved tax revenues.

Closer to home in the EU there is activity too. The focus: resource sustainability (ensuring adequate future supply of natural resources) in a globalised world with an ascendant and acquisitive China leading the charge for natural resources globally.

Viewed through this lens these provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act are part ideology, part realpolitik: they’re about levelling the playing field to pressure all companies to consider the implications of sourcing from conflict-affected areas. And should they decide to continue doing business in such places, they get involved with the process of supporting artisanal miners and isolated communities while preventing militias from taxing resource flows. A true win-win.

Initiatives are being developed at industry level by various NGOs. In our industry, no stranger to conflict minerals, the RJC is taking the lead with companies signing up in droves.

The point here is that while it’s currently the concern of the automotive, aerospace, consumer electronics and diversified industrials, the more we do as an industry to address these issues before regulation comes the better we look, the lower the risk of controversy and the better prepared we will be to respond if eventually the jewellery industry is held up to the kind of scrutiny and regulation advanced in Dodd-Frank Articles 1502-1504. The jury may be out on how many of our customers care about such issues, but it would seem the time is rapidly approaching where we – designer, jeweller, gemmologist alike – may be forced to consider these issues in more detail.

This guest column was taken from the December 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. If you work within the British jewellery industry and would like to write a column for the magazine then email the editor at rachael.taylor@itp.com with an outline of your idea.

 

 

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