Jeremy Hutchinson’s Case Histories, by Thomas Grant
If you’ve ever felt disadvantaged by imperfect knowledge of the events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century; ever been party to a conversation where people of a certain age make knowing reference to mysterious characters and events like the Blake spy case, Profumo, or Keeler; or your shaky grasp of recent history and literature has ever been exposed. Don’t worry, it happens to us all! Right now, earnest pundits who’ve never even cracked the spine of 1984 are referencing doublethink, newspeak, and the Ministry of Truth, in support of their opinions about fake news! But all is not lost. Here is your chance – through one man’s career – to join up the dots of modern social history.
Jeremy Hutchinson was one of the greatest criminal barristers of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. His cases of the period changed society and provide an enthralling exploration of Britain’s post-war social, political and cultural history. From the sex and spying scandals that hastened Harold Macmillan’s resignation in 1963, to the struggle against the secret state and literary censorship through his defence of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Fanny Hill, and Last Tango in Paris, Hutchinson was involved in many of the great trials of the times. He also defended George Blake, Christine Keeler, Great Train Robber Charlie Wilson, art faker Tom Keating and Howard Marks.
Younger readers may find it hard to believe, but this was a period of revolutionary change in British society. The undermining of what was then regarded as the ‘establishment’, and re-alignment of social and moral conventions was well under way, even if the ‘old guard’ failed to recognise it. And the divisions in society can hardly be better illustrated than when the prosecutor in the Lady Chatterley case invited the jury to “ask yourselves … would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?” Remember, the year was 1960, not – as you might suppose – 1860!
For those of us who lived through these formative decades – and either didn’t know, or didn’t care, that society was shifting all around us – it is fascinating to see those relatively recent events through the lens of history. But the joy of this book is that in describing Hutchinson’s career, his biographer, Thomas Grant, strips away the hyperbole and gives arm-chair historians the facts and context of each case with clarity and wit. It is also a beautiful examination of the power of language and words. As Hutchinson puts it, “Words are the ammunition of the advocate; simple but telling words placed in the right order. It is remarkable how powerful words can be.”
Advocacy is the stock in trade of trade association professional. This excellent book can provide some examples for all of us!
Published by John Murray (Publishers) ISBN 978-1-444-79975-0
At the back-end of 2009 I signed the go-ahead for a CRM system that was going to integrate all my association’s systems, including membership, training, and CPD. By early 2013, when I was ready to leave, we were staggering towards a final conclusion. The project wasn’t a failure, but it had gone over budget, and suffered delays along the way – and still hadn’t won the trust of one or two staff.
We thought we’d done all the right things. We’d used a consultant to define our requirements, bring suppliers to the table, and marshal the contestants in the resulting beauty parade. We’d even read – without really understanding – the inches thick specification documents that landed on our desks with a thud. But, despite all the planning, and spending over a hundred grand, nobody was overjoyed with the result.
Where had we gone wrong? I was about to find out as Allen Reid, director of client projects at Hart Square ran through the key findings of their study CRM Projects: Why do they succeed or fail? And right from the start one narrative response struck a chord. As one CEO put it, “We resourced it as if we expected the project to be like painting and decorating…..It turned out to be like plumbing, wiring, and putting on a new roof.” If only I’d known!
Hart Square prides itself on its independent credentials and burning curiosity about what makes things work. So, in an effort to assist those who were “likely to be lumbered with installing a system”, and wanted to “avoid getting shouted at or fired”, Hart Square asked why, given that tech, vendors, and customers have all matured, is the failure rate still greater than in 2001? The simple answer may be that the level of ambition has increased. Organisations want to do more. But how do they avoid future errors?
First, Hart Square asked 200 online respondents to tell them about their business, staff, functional areas; what system and how much they paid; how did they prepare; what time, resources and staff did they employ; and did they use consultants to advise them? Then they asked, did they review processes before-hand, and success afterwards? Spend versus budget, time before adoption, benefits, lessons learned, and any regrets were added to the mix.
The results were interesting. Spending varied enormously from eleven percent spending in the £5-10,000 price range to twenty-one percent with budgets in excess of £250k: the majority, or twenty-five percent, spending between £80 and £150,000. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that it was important to spend the right amount of money for the desired results.
Forty percent of respondents rated their experience as a success, thirty-five percent as a failure, and twenty percent as a limited success. Asked if they would choose the same supplier again, forty-six percent said yes, whilst thirty-nine percent gave a negative response.
It was notable that the rate of churn has increased, with systems being replaced every three to four years, compared with a ten to twelve year time lag in the past. Partly due to the constant updating of software, the desire to achieve more, and increased capability. Whist ‘packaged systems’ are staging a fight back, the top selections – dependent on use – are, number one, MS Dynamics, two Salesforce, and three ThankQ.
In general, most projects took one to two years to complete, with some as long as eight years in the pipeline. However, six to twelve month over-runs were a common occurrence, based on the initial delivery date promised. Where failures occurred, some were down to no single cause, but the majority – thirty-one percent – were attributed to the recreation of already inadequate systems and processes existing within the business. Other causes included a lack of clarity about strategy in twenty-nine percent of cases; twenty-four percent who reckoned they had failed to bring people – staff and members – along with them on the journey because of poor take-up, inadequate training, or simple overload; and a relatively modest sixteen percent that failed due to poor or missing technology.
Where organisations were left asking, “Where did all the money go?” the answers were often, budget overspend, conflict, or just misunderstanding!
Of Hart Square’s five key recommendations, there are three ‘do’s’ and one categorical ‘don’t’: do start with yourself, including strategy, processes, budgets, and resources; get help, this is only going to happen once every five – ten years; invest in change, and bring others with you; and do select your partner like choosing a life-partner! Don’t, for whatever reason, focus on technology!
Co-sponsors of the event, smartimpact, were on hand – in the form of Nick Rosewall – to take on that penultimate point, selecting partners. Critical of the typical ‘arms-length’ selection process, he advised getting to know suppliers up front, and spending quality time together. Given that the relationship might last for years it is, in his view, critically important for there to be synergy between partners based on an empathetic relationship.
The expectations of members and activists have never been more complex or diverse. They expect more channels and organisations presume they can achieve more integration. Overall, a dedicated project manager adds about twenty-five percent to the likelihood of success. But what about consultant use? Can we assume that correlation indicates causation? You’ll have to read the report to get the answer to that question. But, what’s for sure is that installing a CRM system is about change management: leaving the whole project to the IT department will lead to failure!
The phrase “Mind the Gap” was coined in about 1968 as an automated announcement, after it became impractical for drivers and station attendants to warn passengers verbally on London Underground. Now, minding the gap between customer expectations and our digital performance may not be as devastating as tumbling between a tube train and the platform, but it will have consequences never-the-less.
And so it was that Allen Reid, director of client projects, and Simon Pardy, a business consultant at Hart Square gave their early-rising NetXtra Breakfast Club audience a two-handed rendition of the pitfalls. Helping, along the way, to identify approaches to adopting contemporary technology. But first, over to Sarah, the cause of all this angst. Sarah is the average member, and doesn’t care about your departments. She isn’t interested in your data silos, and doesn’t much care about her membership body. She doesn’t like admin; won’t just go to the website; and does NOT want to call you.
You, on the other hand, want to talk to her! But she’s busy, and you’re bombarding her with impersonal email messages, texts, and Tweets – particularly when they’re mostly irrelevant to her – simply doesn’t cut it. In-fact they might drive a wedge between you. And pretending to be personal is even worse, as it exposes your lack of authenticity.
Sarah has loads of choice, has apps coming out of her ears, and in these economically straightened times may choose not to invest in a membership body that views her simply as a statistic. So why not take a leaf out of the Mumsnet book, or even Coeliac UK, with its scrapbooks, recipes, restaurants, and advice on diagnosis?
To succeed, you need to understand your members’ needs and what’s driving them to you. How can you satisfy those needs? Great – maybe crowd sourced – content is good; self-service (for booking, buying, and profile updates) is a must; and, most of all, community. People talking on your site, exchanging news, jobs, and events, add to that feeling of highly personalised communications according Allen and Simon.
Next, in a break from tradition, Scott Cole of NetXtra interviewed Rob Ilsley of The Dispute Service (TDS) to extract some important nuggets from their decision to go for CRM. As a government regulated scheme provider that protects over £1 billion in tenant deposits TDS membership is something of a grudge purchase. But with their current systems having grown organically over a number of years, minor tweaks to any process would result in unforeseen chaos further down the line. It was time to act, sweeping away processes that weren’t user friendly and replacing them with a high degree of self service. But only after analysis of the tenant’s role as a customer. The result has been efficiency, cost savings, and a reduction in disputes.
Pay per click advertising (PPC), search engine optimisation (SEO), and conversion rate optimisation (CRO) are Tom Bowden’s game at Footprint Digital, and he had everyone on their feet to demonstrate the fact. Measure it – test it, is their mantra, and Tom demonstrated it. Although we may make assumptions about what looks great and is likely to engage our audience, with the benefit of A/B testing partnered with SEO/analytics reporting, we can actually put definable data behind decision making.
So, what did others think? I asked fellow delegate, Dan Nimmo, Communications Manager at the Institute of Biomedical Science, and he told me that,
“Having only started as the communications manager at the Institute of Biomedical Science in January, and with no prior experience in membership organisations, the Breakfast Clubs have provided me with a wealth of information and ideas of how to make improvements in our organisation. As well as the steps to overcome some of the problems I have had and can foresee in the future.
The June presentations were the second Breakfast Club that I have attended this year and I was pleased that on both occasions the content has been relevant to my role. I also enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the presentations and meeting fellow communications professionals. The added bonus of a fresh cup of coffee and a bacon roll on arrival are also a much appreciated welcome to the day ahead.”
- Any stand-out moments?
“Yes, learning about some of the challenges other organisations have overcome and the different ways that they have done this is helpful when I come to plan our communication and engagement strategies. As I am currently looking at ways to improve the user experience of our digital membership platform, I found the ‘Mind the digital gap’ presentation especially rewarding. The idea of personalising the membership area for each member is something that I am going to look into further and the Coeliac example used was very appealing.”
- And did the round-table and interview sessions add to your enjoyment?
“I really enjoyed discussing some of the issues in the round table discussion. As someone that is new to my role, I discussed some of the issues that I have faced with the new ideas I am bringing to the role and changes I am beginning to implement. So it was really helpful to hear from other comms staff at my table, who discussed the problems that they have had to overcome in their organisations.”
- What will you be able to apply most immediately to your current role?
“The last presentation on ‘Mind the SEO gap’ was informative and good fun. Although being one of only 3 in the room to pick the first correct answer was a source of pride, although I soon found my short-lived quiz success was over by the next question. The style of the presentation proved a great way to drive home the idea that A/B testing along with SEO/analytics can enable us to make better decisions in our marketing. Something that will come in especially handy to all membership communications teams as we all look to improve on our engagement and better ways to measure it. It also comes at a time when I have been investigating A/B testing to increase our level of open and click through rates in our digital communications to our members.”
- See you next time?
“The NetXtra Breakfast Clubs have given me a really useful insight into the membership sector. I am able to take away lots of new ideas for member engagement and it also allows me to network with fellow comms professionals. I look forward to the next event in September!”.
Written by Michael Hoare
As recent events – such as allegations of Russian electoral hacking – have proved, the merest hint of uncertainty over the conduct or legality of a selection process can seriously damage the credibility of a ballot in the minds of the voters. Even a whiff of mismanagement will leave a bitter taste of dissent lingering amongst the electorate. Remember George W Bush and his hanging chads!?
Cock-up or conspiracy all become one in the minds of those who have begun to question the validity of the process and therefore the result. History has shown us that governments adopted on the basis of a dubious selection process almost always fail to maintain the trust of the people. Except, of course, for dictatorships, and they just don’t care!
So, electing governments is one thing, what about day-to-day decision making? How many times have you, as a trade association manager, been asked your membership’s view on a particular issue, policy, or piece of legislation, only to realise that you are completely in the dark? And, in all honesty, how many times have you responded to such an enquiry – possibly from the press – with your own best guess; hoping that the majority would tow the party line?
We’ve all done it, and because we’re all seasoned campaigners – with our ears to the ground – we generally get away with it. But what if your judgement call goes awry? Second-guessing the mood of your constituency is a risky business, and careers can be seriously dented by getting it wrong. So, why not limit the risk by asking your members what they really think? Most often, the answer to that question is that to do so would be costly, time consuming, and possibly wasteful. But what if it was none of these? Enter digital democracy!?
Under modern government the people elect representatives rather than decide matters directly. The resulting administration may be viewed as more or less democratic depending on how well it represents the will of the people. So, in these terms, digital democracy – where all adult citizens are presumed eligible to participate equally – might be considered an improvement on the democratic process. Or as a remedy to the insular nature, concentrated power, and lack of post-election accountability in a process organized mostly around political parties. And, because the Internet is a primary source of information for many people, it enables citizens to get and post information about politicians, and it in turn allows them to get advice from the electorate in larger numbers. Thus collective judgement and problem solving gives more theoretical power to the citizens and speeds up decision making.
So, online voting could be an effective way to reduce an association’s printing costs; provide wider communication choice for members; be more environmentally friendly; and represent members’ views more accurately. However, not everybody is comfortable with computers and it is vital in a democracy to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised; the right mix of communication methods need to be employed. Maximising communications and using social media within an election context is a powerful way to raise its profile and foster engaging discussion with the electorate. But unfettered it can also backfire badly leading to the dissemination of half-truths, falsehoods, and even character assassination.
But in a world where interest groups already exert influence via platforms like 38 Degrees, Mumsnet, and Global Citizen, digital democracy has to be about much more than just responding to trends on social media. And there are barriers to voting online, including lack of trust in the security of the process; technophobia; and voter fatigue or cynicism. However, as more commercial transactions take place digitally, and security improves, members may become increasingly comfortable with online voting. And if the effective capture and use of data allows for targeted communications it may also increase the ‘buy-in’ to online polling and elections.
So, where does that leave association and membership management skills? Will there be any further need for judgement and experience once all options can be tested – Swiss style – by referendum and all decisions can be digitally ‘crowd sourced’? But, can we really trust the wisdom of crowds to get us through? Are rapid decisions always wise ones? Or, is a wily CEO with his / her ear to the ground still the best barometer of member opinion?
Whatever the answers, membership organisations can’t afford to ignore digital democracy. Having long-since sacrificed their role as information gatekeepers, how long will it be before their ability to represent members and influence policy is also side-stepped on the web?
Michael Hoare 2017
Keep those brain cells active! Here are two titles to make you think: keeping you on your toes until we see you again in the New Year! They may not be hot off the press but, taken together, these titles will provide a yuletide feast for the intellect!
First published in Great Britain in 2011, The Information, by James Gleick, is a must read for students of the information age. And by that I mean just about everyone, because information is the life-blood of modern society. Digital, big data, algorithm, and meme are today’s watch words, and Millennials speak of little else, or so we’re told! But neither this generation nor the last invented information. It’s been kicking around since man first learned to grunt: what’s different now are the uses to which we put it.
Gleick’s book is a history of information. But if you think the current cohort was born into an information revolution, think again. Every generation had has its own information revolution building on the last. From the word, to writing; compilation of the first dictionaries to the charting the oceans; and the invention of morse-code, the telegraph, and the telephone. The capture and transmission of information has progressed inexorably through the centuries. There have been paradigm shifts aplenty, but arguably none bigger in the modern era than the invention – within months of each other – of the transistor and the bit.
The transistor was the red hot hardware invention of 1948: the bit – defined by Claude Shannon as “A unit for measuring information” – followed close on its heels. Between them both inventions accelerated our understanding and usage of data to warp-speed! What came next was the rapid advance in computers only dreamed of by Babbage and Turing; the onward march of digital technology; and the dawning of robotics and artificial intelligence that threaten to shape our world for good or ill.
The Internet is NOT the Answer
Over the last couple of decades the developed world has enthusiastically embraced the internet as the way forward in both work and business. Many of our predictions for the future of employment are predicated on its existence, and the ordering of society has fallen into step with its demands. Andrew Keen is one of those who questioned this new orthodoxy early on. In his book, The Internet is Not the Answer, first published in paperback in the UK in 2015, he asked us to re-examine some of the unintended consequences of our lemming-like dash online. As an early adopter and internet entrepreneur he knows of what he speaks.
Keen’s argument was that, ‘rather than creating transparency and openness, the Internet is creating a panopticon of information-gathering and surveillance services in which we, the users of big data networks like Facebook, have been packaged as their all-too-transparent product’. Outcomes – or so his argument ran – included the empowerment of the mob, intolerance, and bullying; the creation of a self-centred culture of voyeurism and narcissism; the enrichment of a tiny self-appointed minority; and the compounding of collective rage.
No doubt, when he sat down to write his book, Keen’s views would have been regarded as the doom laden pronouncements of a modern Jeremiah. But the last couple of years have seen a shift in the public mood towards the ‘internet revolution’. The zeitgeist has shifted. Many commentators now cite the Internet’s impact on unemployment, inequality, and ubiquitous surveillance with scepticism. What may once have been regarded as reactionary is the new orthodoxy. Governments the world over are calling time on the wild west of Uber and Airbnb, and starting to question the societal effects of the ‘sharing’ and ‘gig’ economies.
Association News (Edition 249: December 2106)
The Information, by James Gleick: published in paperback by Fourth Estate, ISBN 978-0-00-722574-3
The Internet is Not the Answer, Andrew Keen: published by Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1-7239-343-6
What does the brave new world of disruptive technology have in store for trade associations? Will they have a future purpose, and how will they justify their subscription?
Associations have always adapted to change. Time was when they encouraged actors in a particular trade or industry to gather together under a shared identity, partly to validate their supposed expertise, and partly to exclude those deemed less worthy. So, if we’re honest, protectionism and elitism played no small part in achieving credentials, and arcane rules re-enforced by mystifying etiquette were fashioned, which rendered those inside the tent unassailable, and those outside beyond the pale!
This kind of `gentlemen`s club’ mentality – where simply belonging was in itself enough to justify the fee – survived in various forms until the end of the last (twentieth) century. Some associations also managed to build a quasi-official carapace around themselves, and further strengthened their position by assuming the mantle of gate-keepers: granting access to industry data and information to the privileged few.
Members were also encouraged to believe that their status granted them the ear of government. Indeed, in 1996 the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) appeared to confirm that view with the publication of its best practice guide for The Model Trade Association. The DTI is long gone but that document remains the bedrock of many associations, cementing the notions of best practice, bench-marking, and competitiveness in their psyche.
The turn of the century saw companies` growing more concerned about trust issues and the protection of their reputation. Collectively, reputation management became a function of trade associations, achieved by furthering members’ interests with stakeholders like regulators, industry analysts, employees, suppliers, and the media. And, in response to common reputational problems brought about by industry-wide crises – like pollution, slave labour, or blood diamonds – competing firms tried to stave off aggressive government legislation through the development and enforcement of self-regulation.
Commercially, associations also attempted to influence any regulatory or trading conditions that adversely affected their members, by providing a platform for collective representation and lobbying. In reality, the so called ‘level playing field’ involved seeking favourable rules like tax breaks, subsidised research and development, or relaxed employment practices. Promote and protect was, and still is, the stated or implied motto of many associations.
However, over the last decade, the big story has been the rise of digital and the evolution of organisations to meet their members’ changing expectations. Data is now freely available to all; associations aren’t the only conduit for communication between stakeholders; and businesses are increasingly reluctant to pay to simply to `belong`. Faced by shrinking membership fees, and keeping up with members’ demands for instant access to resources and training, some associations turned to sponsorship, exhibitions, group buying, financial benefits packages, and other monetised relationships to fill the financial gap. The most successful ones have managed to continue updating and innovating – make the transition to e-learning, develop digital products – and make all their services accessible online! But how much longer can they keep ahead of the curve?
Emerging, or disruptive, technologies have the capacity to alter our lifestyle, what is understood by work, business and the global economy. Disruptive innovations create new markets and value networks and eventually dislocate the existing ones, while simultaneously displacing established market leaders and alliances. The interesting thing about the current crop – like Airbnb – is that they achieve this without being subject to any of the traditional infrastructure costs and limitations.
So, as social media has already undermined the logic behind at least one of their key functions – communication – how long will it be before someone applies the `Uber’ model to trade association procedures: undermining established practice; regulation; and tradition? And how will associations represent the interests of members who find themselves displaced by, or in competition with, others driven by disruptive technology?
Association News (Edition 249)
Before the headline-grabbing taxi App misappropriated the word for its own purposes über – the German prefix – had become a term to denote something outstanding or supreme! Its current connotations are with disruptive technology. But, in either context, it’s a useful word against which to measure membership organisations…
Technology that upsets the status-quo isn’t new. It’s been around since before the industrial revolution. Jethro Tull’s horse drawn seed drills and hoes put the cat amongst the eighteenth century’s agricultural pigeons. While in the nineteenth, spinning frames and power looms inadvertently gave us ‘Luddites’, the derogatory term for opponents of labour-economising technologies.
But things have moved on apace with the advent of digital technology, and it’s surprising quite how many of our transactional relationships have been affected by new digital platforms: the so-called disruptive technologies. A disruptive innovation is one that creates a new market and value network and eventually disrupts existing ones, displacing established market leaders and alliances. But the interesting thing about the current crop is that they achieve this without being subject to any of the traditional infrastructure costs.
So, Uber is the world’s largest taxi company but owns no cabs. One of the largest accommodation providers – Airbnb – doesn’t have a hotel room to call its own. Whilst SKYPE and WECHAT have no wires or exchanges, and ALIBABA, the world’s most valuable retailer, has no inventory. The list goes on! In fact, they have become so disruptive that government inquiries into online platforms have been asking, why are collaborative economy platforms growing so quickly; what are their implications for employment law and health and safety regulation; and how does consumer protection law apply? Who is regulating them? Is it the EU, the Member State or even the local authority?
Those are all good questions for associations to ponder too! But don’t let’s be fooled into thinking that disruptive technology is only about market dominance via digital platforms. Genomics, 3D printing, advanced materials, advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery, and renewable electricity are also on the top twelve list of developments poised to dislocate us.
So what, if the world’s most popular media owner – Facebook – not only creates no content, but also brings special interest groups together in a way associations previously regarded as their forte? That LinkedIn has already knocked the dynamics of recruitment off kilter, and Amazon has dealt an almost mortal blow to traditional booksellers? Clearly there is no going back, and hankering after the past is no help.
Industry sectors atomized by disruptive technologies will adapt, but they will require a very different set of benefits from their associations. And they in turn will require different skills, finance, and governance to match their members’ needs. Are associations up to the task? Or even thinking that far ahead? What do you think?
Association News (Edition 248)
According to recent reports in The Guardian the Association of Model Agencies (AMA) has about three months to submit their responses to allegations by the Competition and Markets Authority that it is involved in price fixing with some of its members.
Agencies allegedly used the trade association as a vehicle for price coordination when their representatives controlled the AMA’s managing council. Like most associations, the AMA claims its Council meets to discuss industry matters and promote the interests of its members, but it is also alleged, by the CMA, to have circulated regular “AMA alerts” that encouraged agencies to reject fees offered by customers and negotiate higher payments.
I wonder how many trade association councils haven’t at one time or another thought it might be a good idea to give members a ‘heads-up’ on sensitive commercial information; suggest ways of capitalising on their dominant position in the market; or have an ‘informal’ discussion of tenders? Or more likely perhaps, agree a price to avoid competing with each other.
In September 2005, fifty prominent independent schools were found guilty of operating a fee-fixing cartel by the Office of Fair Trading. The OFT found that the schools had exchanged details of their planned fee increases over three academic years between 2001-02 and 2003-04, in breach of the Competition Act 1998. For their part Bursars freely admitted that they used to meet regularly and talk about fees, but maintained that the swapping of information did not amount to a concerted plot to push up fees.
It’s a familiar dilemma for association CEOs. A general discussion at a council meeting can all too soon result in some bright spark suggesting a monthly alert to all members with a guide price for some service or functions. And it’s often down to the CEO to nip it in the bud before what seemed like a helpful suggestion turns in anti-competitive behaviour, generally to the accompaniment of harrumphing about what exactly are the ‘benefits’ of membership!
Selling jewellery involves the risk of theft! That it is easily transportable, can be recycled, or broken down into component parts, and still represent a store of value is the biggest challenge to police and insurers. So much so that only negligible amounts of stolen jewellery are ever recovered. Alarms, CCTV, fogging, and forensic markers can either defend or identify property, but the real challenge is to deny criminals ultimate access to valuables while not turning shops into fortresses.
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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!
Contact me on email@example.com for strategy, communications, and public relations consultancy.