What does it take to be a responsible jeweller?

Words by By Juliane Kippenberg, associate director, and Komala Ramachandra, senior researcher, at Human Rights Watch.

This week, hundreds of jewellers from around the world attended International Jewellery London. Last year, it drew about 9,000 industry representatives from 71 countries, discussing everything from jewellery design and manufacturing to marketing. This year, jewellery free of human rights abuses was also on the agenda.

Gold mining has been tainted by serious human rights abuses, including child labor, deadly working conditions, forced evictions, and harmful pollution. Human Rights Watch has documented such abuses in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, and Eritrea.

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We have also investigated how jewelry companies are trying to avoid contributing to human rights abuses in their gold and diamond supply chains. We recently took a closer look at 13 leading jewellery brands, with a combined annual revenue of over £20 billion. Many companies don’t know where their gold and diamonds are coming from, and don’t do enough to assess human rights risks. Some jewellery companies publish sparse, general information about human rights risks in their supply chains, which is nowhere near enough for a consumer to make an informed choice.

Many of the companies we contacted pointed to the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) and their certification against its standards. These companies considered their RJC certification proof of responsible sourcing. But this industry group’s standard is broad and imprecise, and does not require companies to fully trace the source of their minerals so they know what happened from the mine to the finished product. And there is little monitoring to ensure that companies are actually following the RJC’s code.

There are a few leading companies among those we examined. Tiffany & Co. stands out for its ability to track its gold back to the mine, and for its thorough assessments of human rights impacts. UK jeweler Boodles has pledged to take steps to better assess its supply chain and to revising and expanding its code of conduct for diamond and gold suppliers. It recently conducted an audit on its sourcing practices, and while it has yet to make the results public, the company has committed to producing public reports on its findings.

Other jewellery companies — including many small jewelers – are increasingly making efforts to ensure that the gold directly from small-scale mines is produced under rights-respecting conditions. A number of small jewellers in the UK have formed a group called Fair Luxury, or FLUX, with the goal of promoting responsible sourcing from rights-respecting mines. Many FLUX members source their gold from Fairtrade or “Fairmined” certified mines, which go further than other voluntary standards to oblige mines to respect clearly defined labor rights requirements and monitors conditions regularly for compliance.

At International Jewellery London, FLUX hosted a series of presentations on human rights and jewellery supply chains, helping put responsible sourcing on the agenda of jewelers. At the standing-room only presentations, jewellers were keen to learn about and discuss strategies for improving sourcing practices, and communicate their efforts to the public. They also requested updated and ongoing reporting on efforts by the jewellery industry to address human rights in their supply chains.

All jewellery companies, big or small, have a responsibility to ensure human rights are respected in their supply chains. Many consumers —particularly younger ones — increasingly expect companies to act responsibly. International norms also make clear that companies should assess human rights risks in their product chains and ask their suppliers to provide them with detailed information about every step of the production process.

Ultimately, consumers need to know about what they are buying and that is why companies should report publicly about the human rights due diligence they are undertaking. All the jewellery companies at International Jewellery London should be transparent about where their gold and diamonds originate, and what they are doing to address human rights abuses in their supply chains.

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