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.

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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

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