Jewellers: Let’s Get Planting!

July 24th, 2017   •   no comments   

Since the turn of the century jewellers have come under sustained pressure from campaign groups to consider the human and environmental costs involved in extracting the raw materials that they subsequently sell as finished products on British high streets. Numerous campaigns have sought to raise the collective consciousness, and retailers – as the interface between consumers and the supply chain – were encouraged to apply pressure on their suppliers to bring about change.

In the jewellery context, precious metals, diamonds, and gemstones are viewed as the main ‘offenders’ and their extraction and processing has been blamed for conflict, oppression, human rights abuses, exploitation, and displacement of indigenous peoples. Not to mention environmental degradation. Gold and diamonds, which for these purpose we can think of as the principle commodities, are extracted in many places around the globe. However the continent of Africa has historically been considered the main source of both. With large corporations and artisanal miners both bringing raw material to market.

It might be tempting to view the big mining companies as the villains of the piece, but they have done a lot to improve working conditions. It mustn’t be forgotten that, whilst small-scale artisanal miners may be less visible, they often leave an equally poor environmental legacy.  Starting with the clearing of the ‘overburden’ that includes trees, vegetation, and topsoil, and leaving behind degraded subsoils potentially contaminated with mercury and cyanide (See Paul Laird’s report from Ghana about illegal gold-mining near to Montonnso Sacred Forest.)

During my twelve year tenure as former CEO of the National Association of Goldsmiths I witnessed a lot of good work done on cleaning up the supply chain. Members of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), for instance, now commit to – and are independently audited against – international standards on responsible business practices for diamonds, gold and platinum group metals that addresses human rights, labour rights, environmental impact, mining practices, and product disclosure in the jewellery supply chain.

My friend Greg Valerio on the other hand has worked tirelessly on the plight of artisanal miners, latterly championing the work of the Fairtrade Foundation. Their Fairtrade Gold scheme speaks directly to consumers about the effect their choices have on others, and the modest premium they pay improves the lives of small scale miners around the world.

Since leaving the NAG I have involved myself with the work of the International Tree Foundation (ITF). But this isn’t about ‘do-gooding’ or tree hugging! Just like Fairtrade, ITF’s work results in real incremental improvements in living standards, the environment, and well-being. Working in partnership with local organisations we support community forestry projects both in the UK and Africa. Helping to build secure livelihoods and improve the local environment through sustainable tree planting programmes. In Kenya alone there are plans for 20 million trees by 2024!

Yes, the planting and conservation of trees and forests does improve biodiversity, soil quality, water- retention and the air we breathe. But trees are also a source of economic benefits including fruits, wood, fibres, gum, cosmetics, and medicines. And they supplement livelihoods in rural areas.

International Tree Foundation works with businesses to engage their staff and customers in tree planting initiatives across Africa and in the UK. If you are interested in improving ecosystems and livelihoods, and in communicating your commitment to sustainable development to your clients and employees, then get in touch.

You can call 01865 318 832 or email info@internationaltreefoundation.org for further information on their business partnerships scheme.

OUR MISSION

FLUX: Fair Luxury

April 25th, 2016   •   no comments   

Thirteen years as CEO of the now defunct National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and I was beginning to experience a sense of frustration that the debate on transparency and trace-ability in the jewelley supply chain was going around in circles! After more than a decade of work – heroic efforts by Greg Valerio and Fairtrade Gold, and a bucket load of green-wash from other quarters – I was starting to feel that the pool of committed people was almost saturated and that we were now just having a circular debate within a group of devotees to the cause. But the recent FLUX: REDEFINING LUXURY conference has restored my faith!

The True Cost

Now, after three years watching from the side-lines, I’m immensely encouraged to find that the message is again reaching a wider, grass-roots, audience of designer makers. Why is this? Well, persistence is one reason, recognition another! The award of Greg’s MBE contributed new impetus and pushed ethical gold several notches up the awareness ladder. Ethical fashion has helped too.

Valerio 1

Greg Valerio

In 2000 – when I first became involved with retail jewellers – many didn’t really get the connection between themselves and the fashion industry. But brands and diverse materials have broadened their horizons, and cemented the bonds between jewellery and fashion. Interestingly fashion and jewellery have been running on parallel tracks when it comes to ethical supply chain issues too.

Both are concerned with provenance, the elimination of destructive environmental practices, human rights violations, and exploitation of local workers. But their gestation periods have been different. Environmental and exploitation anxieties about gold, precious metals, and diamonds matured over decades, reaching their tipping point with the No Dirty Gold and ‘blood diamond’ revelations early this century.

Similarly, the extraction, and consumption of water during cotton cultivation and subsequent pollution in the processing of fabric has long been an environmental concern for the fashion industry. The universality, accessibility, and relentless rapidity of fashion trends – ‘fast fashion’ – has accelerated that destruction but also propelled the possibility of change in the garment industry. The durability, value, and complexity of jewellery, has driven change more slowly.

Fashion Revolution 1

Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution was born, in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed 1,134 and injuring 2,500 others.  Its belief that ‘fashion can be made in a safe, clean and beautiful way, where creativity, quality, environment and people are valued equally’ seems to me to be the fundamental linkage between jewellery and fashion! Thanks to Greg, Fairtrade Gold, Lina Villa from ARM, and Orsola de Castro of Fashion Revolution for bringing that fact vividly to life!

Michael Hoare

Bavaria 1

A Gem of an Idea!

April 11th, 2016   •   no comments   

Gem Idea Graphic

The jewellery industry has been angst-ridden for most of the current century over the moral, ethical, and environmental damage done by the exploitation of gold and diamonds. Child labour, the blighted lives of miners, the spoil left by extraction, the financing of civil wars, and the buttressing of repressive regimes have each left their own stain on the industry. The Kimberley Process, the Dodd Frank act, OECD Due Diligence, and subsequent legislation, attempted to deal with these concerns, and bring forth order out of chaos. However, the plethora of initiatives in the supply chain remains perplexing for retailers, and those that want to trade ethically.

As CEO of the now defunct National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and a founding Director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), I worked with NGOs and others for over a decade to influence the practices and policies of miners, refineries, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and banks in their efforts to regulate and monitor the movement and provenance of gold and diamonds within the supply chain.

Today, rigorous policies – both imposed and self-policed – are impacting on the tracking of both commodities back to responsible origins.  But the work still isn’t complete, and the industry still needs to shore up its claims to social and ethical sourcing with transparency, trace-ability, and communication across the entire supply chain, before retailers can trade with complete confidence in the attribution of their stock. Platinum group metals have also been added to the scope of the RJC, but one of the unsolved problems remains the provenance of coloured gemstones!

Therefore the announcement of the launch of a technical feasibility study to include coloured gemstones into the scope of the RJC should be music to jewellers’ ears.  But, past experience of working alongside the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A), whose work is the study and identification of gemstones, I am acutely aware how complex a task it is likely to be. Not just because of the range of stones, but because of the fractured supply chain.

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – labour intensive and often in remote and inaccessible areas – still accounts for the majority of the worldwide supply, raising obstacles to transparency and trace-ability at even the production stage. Compared to diamonds, the supply chain of coloured gemstones is highly complex, making it nearly impossible to trace their trajectory from mine to end-user.

Mined in roughly fifty countries – located mostly in the global south – gemstones pass through numerous hands before being polished, transformed into jewellery and sold in the international retail market.  And – unlike diamonds – the coloured gemstone supply chain doesn’t have a history of being governed by a centralised cartel, so opportunities for human rights abuses, environmental damage, and illicit activity, are legion.

So, while the RJC’s intentions are entirely laudable, their desire to plug the remaining gaps admirable, I think we should all recognise that the road ahead will be strewn with moral and ethical boulders, and some will be very difficult to work around!

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare

Contact me on info@michael-hoare.co.uk for strategy, communications, and public relations consultancy.

Getting a Buzz out of Jewellery Drones?

December 14th, 2015   •   no comments   

Getting a buzz from jewellery drones

The jewellery trade press are reporting that a business owner in the U S has completed what is thought to be the first ever drone-delivery undertaken by a jeweller. According to Jewellery Focus:

‘Distinctive Gold Jewelry, of Frankfort in Illinois, delivered a women’s watch to a couple celebrating their anniversary. The business owners say that they have being “dying to do” such a delivery since they first heard of the concept of drones. Drones have become a talking point in retail and consumer circles ever since online shopping giant Amazon said it was trialling the technology….It is not clear whether Distinctive Gold Jewelry intends to roll it out as a standard part of their service offering, but it has nonetheless garnered some attention stateside, with US trade magazine National Jeweler breaking the story.’

So, a PR coupe for Distinctive Gold Jewelry, but what if this neat – even amusing – stunt were to become an everyday occurrence?  The crowded streets of our major cities are a far cry from the comfortable little town of Frankfort with its 17,000 inhabitants.

Scale up the delivery of one watch to the kind of volumes that might attract Amazon, and you have a whole different scenario. Imagine the skies of London or Birmingham buzzing with delivery drones? Or worse still, the peaceful horizons of our market towns? Is that really what we want?  How much fun will it be when our Sunday afternoons – and maybe nights – are shattered by the infernal buzz of drones passing overhead? How much of a laugh will it be when you’re poleaxed by a parcel falling from the sky, or get a swipe across the head from a twenty kilo projectile, as it bounces off the roof, and breaks a few tiles on the way down? And who will pay for the damage?

So, leaving aside the obvious security concerns, the threats to privacy and safety are just two of the reasons we should think very hard before surrendering to this seductive new technology. But if that time ever does come, I think I’ll be investing in a tin hat and a catapult!

Dysfunctional by Association

September 9th, 2015   •   no comments   

Sports Direct is facing heavy criticism in the press. Its board labelled as dysfunctional by the Institute of Directors (IoD) for failing, among other things, to check the powers of founder and executive director Mike Ashley. Apart from major decisions being made without board level consultation until the very last-minute; an atypical board structure; and unexpected decisions being made with no explanation, the Sports Direct board comes in for flack for its unusual governance. Have associations anything to learn from this example?

Dyfunctional by association

According to reports in The Guardian newspaper, Sports Direct`s chairman, Keith Hellawell, told a recent commons Scottish affairs select committee that non-executive directors were unaware of a plan to put part of the group into administration until the day before it happened, despite discussions with the administrator over nearly three months. Two hundred workers lost their jobs as a result. A handful of senior executives took key decisions without any discussion at board level, and one shareholder is facing legal action from Sports Direct after he sought access to the retailer’s shareholder register to gain support for a campaign on the use of zero-hours contracts.

Whilst the Sports Direct board may be an extreme example, I could name at least one membership association in a similar fix. So, with the effectiveness of a board and its members able to make or break an organisation, is it time to ask – how functional is my own board, and is it making good decisions? Membership boards aren`t exempt from failure after all!

Some forms of dysfunction may  be easily addressed but others can be much more difficult to resolve. In my experience, ninety percent of the time the problem is the wrong mix of people. They may have been  appointed board members because of their expertise, experience, great reputations and networks, and often due to their strong personalities. But this can sometimes prove a toxic mix!

There are numerous reasons why individuals sign up for board positions in the first place, and understanding these can go a long way to explaining dysfunction in the boardroom. Sometimes, its purely for ego’s sake, believing the role will look good on their CVs, rather than out of a true interest in contributing to the board and in doing their fair share. I know of boards where directors simply don’t turn up for regular, scheduled meetings. And others where they almost never read briefing notes. Plus, un-remunerated volunteers may give low priority to their duties.

Sometimes it is the inability of the chairman to keep order, prevent side meetings, and make sure all points of view are heard – curbing the bullying or garrulous, and encouraging the timid – so that the discussion flows and timely decisions are made. Postponement and procrastination are the enemies of decision-making. And failure to instil the principle of `cabinet government` – whereby the whole board puts its weight behind its collective decisions – can leed to a leaky and divided board. Directors must also leave individual self-interest at the door, acting only for the common good. Some trade association directors find this latter principle very hard to grasp.

So, a vital job for any board is to monitor  its own performance – with the help of an independent observer – to see if there is remedial work to do. The outward signs of board dysfunction should be easy to spot, and may include churn in the boardroom and among senior management; a CEO who struggles because of lack of support (a CEO running rampant can, conversely, be a sign of Board weakness); and constant failure to meet objectives in an otherwise healthy market.

The effects can be severely damaging. The business will undoubtedly lose good people and will make bad decisions. But there is no quick fix and severe damage can be done during the time it takes to remove and replace under-performing, dead-weight, or wayward directors. Nip the problems in the bud at an early stage. Don’t waste precious resources firefighting after the event – risking the loss of members’ confidence – with all that can entail in terms of lost revenue. Take action now!

Latest reports indicate that in the Sports Direct case, one result may be an AGM vote against the retailer’s executive deputy chairman by an influential shareholder. Where that will lead is not yet clear, but it’s a stark reminder that playing fast and loose with governance can have unhappy consequences for all boards – including associations!

Bavaria 1

Michael Hoare FIAM

@mjhoare

They Paved Paradise

May 14th, 2015   •   no comments   

I love trees, and one of the great things about London – compared with other cities – is it’s green spaces and tree lined streets. So I’d like to see more of them, and welcomed the idea of a ‘green bridge’ in the heart of the city when it was first mooted. Especially as it was to be coupled with innovative – almost sculptural – design. But if this Observer article has got its facts right, why don’t we just use the £60 million of public money, supposedly pledged to this project, to grow ourselves a proper forest that’s open to all? That’s fifteen million trees by my reckoning! Read more….

Green Bridge Design

For those of us old enough to remember, this story must call to mind the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ from the album Ladies of the Canyon, released way back in April 1970.  It goes something like this:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

Dash for Drones?

April 16th, 2015   •   no comments   

Morris Dancer edit1Was it an April Fools stunt? When launched on the first of the month, some commentators thought Amazon’s new Dash service was just that. But it isn’t! It’s more like a bad dream really; a glimpse into a dystopian future, some might say! I wouldn’t go that far but it does mark another way-point on our descent into total consumerist immersion.

Taken at face value, the idea of having handy prompts around the house reminding you to order everyday essentials is no bad thing. Who doesn’t need a little help compiling their shopping list? Who hasn’t exclaimed “damn, I should have got toothpaste!!” when unpacking a week’s shopping? It’s frustrating, but conquering the shortcomings of one’s memory is a useful discipline!

But, if I’m reading this right, Dash isn’t so much about useful prompts and organising your needs but instant gratification, slavish loyalty to brands, and elimination of competition. It’s potentially resource hungry and wasteful too. Regular replenishment is one thing. Programmed delivery of printing ink, water filters, and janitorial supplies has got to be more efficient, but how does the economics of whizzing round with an instant toilet or kitchen roll stack up?

Presumably some-one has to pay for delivery. Would that be Amazon, the customer, or the self-employed courier; paid per parcel, but responsible for his own fuel and vehicle, and working unlimited hours? Or maybe the skies will soon be buzzing with delivery drones? Ignore the Sunday afternoons – and maybe nights – shattered by infernal noise, what is the risk of being poleaxed by a parcel falling from the sky, or swiped across the head by a rogue drone, as it bounces off your roof, and breaks a few tiles into the bargain? Threats to privacy, security, vandals with catapults, portents of Metropolis-the list of reasons not to use delivery drones just goes on and on!

 

24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, by Jonathan Crary

……….the idea of a divergence between a human world and the operation of global systems with the capacity to occupy every waking hour of one’s life seems dated and inapt. Now there are numerous pressures for individuals to reimagine and refigure themselves as being of the same consistency and values as the dematerialized commodities and social connections in which they are immersed so extensively……….

……There is a pervasive illusion that, as more of the earth’s biosphere is annihilated or irreparably damaged, human beings can magically disassociate themselves from it and transfer their interdependencies to the mecanosphere of global capitalism. The more one identifies with the insubstantial electronic surrogates for the physical self, the more one seems to conjure an exemption from the biocide underway everywhere on the planet. At the same time, one becomes chillingly oblivious to the fragility and transience of actual living things.

 

VersoBooks.com

Ethical, Transparent, Traceable: Who Says?

November 10th, 2014   •   no comments   

“Is armed conflict always wrong? What is child labour, and is it always wrong? If gemstones come from land taken from indigenous people without compensation, are those gemstones ethical? Are your employees paid a living wage and equal pay for equal work, if not, are you ethical?” Just a few of the questions posed last week by Dana Schorr at the Gem-A ethics debate, which I had the pleasure of chairing. Having challenged the audience to question every one of the speakers’ assertions, I soon had a lively debate on my hands!

MH chairing the debate

Facing a packed conference room were three speakers with decades of ethical jewellery experience between them. Challenging our notions of what is ethical or moral, Dana illustrated many of the worse – some would say inevitable – consequences of globalisation. He also tested the right of corporations to determine what is ethically or morally acceptable. Which begs the question, is the work of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) lust marketing then?  And different cultures have different standards, does that make the case for  moral relativism?

Greg and DanaDana works out of Santa Barbara, California, where he set up Schorr Marketing in 1980 to import and export rough and cut gemstones, a decision he made after falling in love with gemstones at Tucson shows. His career encompasses buying in Thailand and India, representing miners in Tanzania, and opening a cutting factory in Sri Lanka. These days he promotes manufacture in Asia and is a big noise on AGTA and ICA committees.

Apologising for what he acknowledged might appear an anti-corporate rant, Greg Valerio – once described as the most dangerous bastard in the jewellery industry – made an impassioned plea for real solutions by real people; building a system and process that verifies the truth and builds confidence, transparency and traceability. He cautioned that the finer motives of CSR shouldn’t be allowed to be swallowed up by corporatism, subsumed by the profit motive, or abandoned as a consequence of change of ownership. What he wanted to see was sustainable economic impact on the ground. And he rejected Dana’s assertion that the trade and public balk at the cost of ethical assurance, “you mean you don’t want to pay!”

Greg comes from background in human rights and environmental advocacy, setting up CRED as a development and education network in 1991 following trips to Tanzania and Ethiopia. His initial focus was human rights, the environment, and economic justice for the poor. In 1996 he set up CRED jewellery to retail fair trade green-gold and platinum, as a test bed and model for what could be achieved. Greg has received many accolades for his work, in 2013 he wrote a best-selling book – Making Trouble: Fighting for Fair Trade Jewellery – describing his journey so far. Having relinquished the running of CRED he has subsequently worked with the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), the JEC-UK, and is soon to become a consultant for the Gem-A.

Audience engaged in the arguments

Reminding us that small businesses form the majority of the jewellery supply chain and corporations are effectively standing on the shoulders of the small guy, Vivien Johnson – a consultant specialising in responsible sourcing of precious metals, diamonds and gems – concluded that there is little sense in dumping the good things we already have, simply because we find it hard to define what is ethical, or we suspect the motives of big corporations. She cautioned against an approach to CSR that becomes simply a tick box activity that fails to capture examples of best practice, to educate, or develop. Endorsing the work done by Branded Trust in co-operation with the Gem-A and the World Jewellery Federation (CIBJO) to produce a holistic approach to CSR and a toolkit for success Vivien commended their new online course.

Vivien explains

 Vivien has over fifteen years’ experience in the jewellery sector, and first-hand knowledge of ethical consumer brands having founded Fifi Bijoux in 2006 as a sustainable business model promoting ethics in mining and jewellery. Fifi Bijoux uses exclusively traceable and ethical sources, and its success led to numerous consultancy assignments for Vivien in the USA, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and mainland Europe. Having racked up accolades as a young social entrepreneur she is currently the chairperson for JEC-UK and a consultant on ethical issues for the Gem-A.

I still lament the slow pace of change over the last decade, but I came away from time in the hot seat with some over-riding impressions. First, the ethical message has more effectively percolated the industry than I had feared. Second that there is still a great thirst for more knowledge. And last, if we could harness the goodwill and energy that was in the room last week, we could make massive strides towards a transparent jewellery  sector.

Michael Hoare

Long Slow Road to Ethical Jewellery

October 24th, 2014   •   no comments   

It came as a shock to realise that over ten years have passed since a conversation between Greg Valerio and I that led to the Joint Ethics Committee UK (JEC-UK).

He had just presented a contentious report – Towards an Ethical Jewellery Business (compiled by Magnus Macfarlane, Anne Tallontire, and Adrienne Martin, of Greenwich University) – to the NAG Council and received what could best be described as a frosty response from some members.

SAMSUNG

At a follow-up session we hatched a plan for an ethics working group, and at our first meeting in 2004 were joined around the table by Geoff Field, then CEO of the BJA, and representatives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Greenwich University. Apologies, I recall, were received from DTI, Global Witness, and DIFD on that occasion, but over the next five years they, and many other organisations, were to give us the benefit of their experience. Such that in 2009 we formalised the Joint Ethics Committee into something approaching its current identity.

So, it was with some satisfaction that, over a decade later, I found myself at The Goldsmiths’ Centre – also undreamt of in 2003 – for the announcement that the Houlden Group, the Company of Master Jewellers (CMJ) and Retail Jewellers of Ireland (RJI) are to work alongside the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG), British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) and the Gemmological Association of Great Britain (Gem-A), in supporting the work undertaken by the JEC-UK. Two important buying groups and Ireland’s largest jewellery trade association added to the JEC-UK platform gives weight to the committee’s sustained effort. Personally, I hope that their support will encourage the industry to re-double its efforts on sourcing.

Back in 2013 we (JEC) launched a ‘Gold Paper’ examining the practices and policies of refineries, suppliers, retailers, NGOs and banks and their efforts to regulate and monitor the movement and provenance of gold within the UK supply chain. Detailed analysis revealed that the adoption of rigorous policies – both imposed and self-policed – was impacting on the tracking of gold back to responsible origins. However, it also showed that the industry needed to shore up its claims to social and ethical sourcing with transparency, traceability, and advanced communication across the entire supply chain. At the time I thought the plethora of initiatives in the gold supply chain too perplexing for retailers, and those that wanted to trade ethically. So from the outset we tried to come up with some straightforward guidance that cut through the rhetoric. Our answer, ten simple recommendations!

Last year, I was privileged to meet gold miners from Peru and Bolivia who supply the raw material, and to hear first-hand their accounts of the conditions under which they work. Their stories are a powerful testament to the benefits that can accrue from certified gold, and the positive effect that it has on local communities and people. I came away convinced that Fairtrade Gold has a pivotal role to play in building a traceable and transparent supply chain.  So I welcome the Fairtrade “I Do” campaign, stressing the importance of ethics to new jewellery consumers.

Now the JEC-UK is going one step further by announcing plans for a ‘Diamond Paper’ to be released in 2015. My hope is that with this initiative; the greater resources that more members will bring; and practical measures like the Gem-A’s new CSR course, and the “I Do” campaign, we will see the momentum really ramped up!

A week, they say, is a long time in politics! But in CSR, it appears, a decade can disappear in the twinkling of an eye!

Michael Hoare

Wake Me Up When It’s Over: Association Merger Talks Don’t Inspire

September 11th, 2014   •   no comments   

With echoes of the Scottish referendum, the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) and the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) issued – according to the trade press – a “Together We’re Stronger” missive at International Jewellery London (IJL), extolling the virtues of a unified organisation and naming the committee members that will bring about the proposed supply chain ‘love in’.  Contrary to expectation, The Unification Working Party is not a Maoist cadre tasked with boosting rice production, but a bipartite committee trying to determine the details of the NAG / BJA merger which was announced with a flourish – and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding – earlier this year. The IJL meeting was its progress report. But I can’t help thinking that, just like the ‘yes’ campaign, there are still a lot of unanswered questions floating in the air. Like, what are the benefits of unification?

Inspiring Debate?

Inspiring Debate?

Aside from the obvious potential economies of scale that might be achieved, what else will benefit their respective members, the trade as a whole, and the public in general, if these two bodies – each with a proud history – are lumped together? But before we get onto that, consider those economies of scale. Sure, having one chief executive instead of two will save a few quid, and combining the ‘back office’ functions makes sense, but unless everyone is going to squeeze in together that still leaves two buildings to be serviced. Or is the plan to sell the NAG’s prime asset, its Shoreditch building, and put the resulting once-only wedge into the fighting fund?

Reports in the press speak of an impassioned plea to his AGM for greater industry collaboration from the BJA chief executive who is quoted as saying, “Here is the vision– a united industry pulling in the same direction, speaking with the same voice and creating even greater consumer confidence in the purchase of jewellery”. But what exactly is that vision? Are manufacturers and retailers currently pulling in opposite directions, and will the unification of two trade associations lead to more consumer confidence?

During my tenure I thought all parties worked together pretty well when it came to such consumer confidence issues as ethics and supply chain transparency. With retailers (NAG) and suppliers (BJA) holding each other to account, and the Gemmological Association (Gem-A) offering impartial expertise; thus maintaining the necessary ‘tension’ between the protagonists that got things done.  Back in the day, campaigners protested about conflict diamonds or dirty gold outside jeweller’s shops, because they appreciated that their visibility and immediate financial impact would force retailers to demand action from their suppliers. Thus, vested interests were exposed, and change was effected by applying pressure back up the supply chain. But once there is one body representing that chain, no matter how many reassurances it issues, it will inevitably be seen as a cosy industry cartel by conspiracy theorists. Will ever be able to counter the activists’ charge that “they’re all in it together” and “they would say that wouldn’t they”?

The NAG and BJA aren’t in the same league, but just look where consolidation has got the electricity suppliers. It’s now virtually impossible to separate power generation from consumer supply. The result is that customers are distrustful and resentful of the impenetrable monoliths that they believe collude to stifle competition – against customers’ interests – and increase prices!

Meanwhile the NAG’s chairman was quoted in an earlier article declaring that the differences between the BJA and NAG are “becoming increasingly blurred”. I disagree. The differences between the two organisations are clear. The NAG has been training its members and their staff for over one-hundred years; spawned the Institute of Registered Valuers and SaferGems within the last decade; and established the original ethics working group. The BJA came late to the party, preferring to concentrate on helping its members to export their products and their manufacturing capability. But both organisations are undeniably experts in their respective fields.

The only reason that the two bodies are now chasing “the same types of members” is that, faced with a moribund manufacturing industry at the turn of the 21st century, the BJA had to look elsewhere – namely retail – for members. NAG’s principle error, and what provided BJA with a toe-hold, was to believe that Canute-like they could stem the rising tide of internet selling and thus had no need of online members who didn’t meet their standards. The BJA mopped up those that failed their test!

If my past experience as a ‘foot soldier’ during two trade association mergers is anything to go by, then they will be lucky to pull it off without one side or the other thinking they’ve been shafted; alienating the bulk of their existing members; without sacrificing their expert staff to ‘economies of scale’; or transmogrifying into an amorphous blob that doesn’t truly represent anyone – a jack of all trades, but master of none. The sector deserves better than ‘vanilla’ representation and if the working party wants to sell this merger it will have to come up with more compelling narratives than those currently going the rounds. As the referendum debate proves, radical change is effected by appealing both to the heads and to the hearts of voters. So far – at least from the outside – I don’t sense that this debate has come up with the right combination of these elements to really capture hearts and minds of grass roots jewellers.

Michael Hoare

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