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'Uplifting Earth' Reviews Ethical Standards of 10 Jewelry Brands

Jul 8, 2011 2:17 PM   By Jeff Miller
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RAPAPORT... Corporate responsibility strategists at Lifeworth Consulting released a benchmarking study on the ethical performance of luxury jewelers and concluded that most of the brands failed to meet basic  consumer expectations for sourcing of metals and gemstones. The report, titled "Uplifting Earth: The Ethical Performance of Luxury Jewellery Brands," was published by nonprofit group Fair Jewelry Action, and was intended to encourage improvements across sourcing practices  and to adopt a transparent  social responsibility action plan.

The top 10 brands studied for their social and environmental performance included Boucheron, Bulgari, Buccellati, Cartier, Chanel, Chopard, Graff,  Harry Winston, Piaget and Van Cleef & Arpels.

Some of findings revealed that even though some top brands belonged to the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), they lacked  transparency, which is one pillar for membership.  The brands also failed to state “how they supported” the Kimberley Process in effort to ensure that diamond mines operated without human rights abuses.  The brands did not disclose how they combated corruption, which is another key pillar of RJC's best practices. Given these findings, the brands needed to strengthen relationships with the supply chain and be able to trace goods back to the source, according to the authors.   While Cartier was an exception, all the brands failed to publicly  communicate their long term commitment to social responsibility initiatives.

The study compared the brands’ practices against  innovations made across the ethical sourcing of precious metal and gemstones, and found that with the exception of Cartier and Boucheron, the jewelry brands lagged behind acceptable norms. The study also reported that some of the luxury brands  offered to sell rubies from Myanmar, despite an embargo on those gems in Europe.  Boucheron, Cartier and Harry Winston were reportedly carrying "pre-embargo" rubies, whereas Chopard, Graff, and Piaget were selling more recent Burmese stones, according to the authors. It remained unclear whether Buccellati and Bulgari were selling Burmese rubies. Chanel and Van Cleef & Arpels stated they were not.

Authors argued that luxury jewelry brands hold the power and prestige to make a difference in the industry, yet of the 10 brands analyzed, with the exception of Cartier and Boucheron, it appeared that most have been slow to demonstrate responsible business practices, particularly in regard to responsible sourcing.

''A poor focus on traceability means that brands cannot call themselves responsible if they do not know where their gemstones and precious metals come from. It therefore comes as no surprise that one of the key elements of corporate responsibility,  transparency, is also inadequate,'' according to the report.

Even still, from the very basic form  of a corporate responsibility strategy, it appeared to the authors that these brands had a very limited vision of what drives the corporate responsibility model.

''Most have sought comfort through a risk management and compliance focus that does not leverage corporate responsibility to create opportunities. With millions of people dependent on artisanal and small-scale mining that are part of the jewelry supply chain, the scope for luxury brands to make a difference in the world is vast.'' And yet the authors questioned whether the luxury jewelry industry ''genuinely integrated corporate responsibility as part of its strategy.''

Moving forward, these brands must show  leadership in responding to the needs of the poor communities that supply them with metals and gemstones, in a genuine attempt to break the poverty cycle, authors stated.

''Although a decade of effort to reduce conflict and environmental damage from jewelry supply chains has curbed some of the worst practices, it has failed to identify an aspirational role for jewelry,'' stated Jem Bendell, co-author of the report at Lifeworth.

''Today, the efforts of responsible jewelry pioneers are outlining a vision of ethical excellence. By comparing the actions of 10 luxury brands with this new vision, the report finds luxury jewelry firms risk being left behind in an increasingly aspirational marketplace.''

Uplifting  Earth provided guidance on how brands could move beyond a negative risk management approach to their ethical considerations, and  use social and environmental issues as a creative inspiration.  Jewelry brands that "embody a new approach" to ethical practices included CRED Jewellery, Fifi Bijoux, JEL and Brilliant Earth.

Marc Choyt, of Reflective Images Inc. and co-founder of Fair Jewelry Action, said, ''The big brands must get their act together if they are not going to lose customers to the companies that really care. They can’t hide behind vague statements or the Kimberley Process anymore, because others are showing what’s possible. We can make jewelry that makes a positive difference to the world.''

Authors suggested that brands could integrate the following  12 steps into  their corporate social responsibility practices:

  • Understand your values & organizational values
  • Assess what your impacts are
  • Decide your level of engagement
  • Clarify your key stakeholders and why
  • Prioritize your issues
  • Allocate responsibilities
  • Set targets for excellence & improvement
  • Communicate aims and invite conversation
  • Educate and align (dis)incentives
  • Team up with others and make public commitments
  • Monitor, measure and report
  • Evaluate, revise, adapt

The full report (58 pages) can be downloaded here.

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Tags: Jeff Miller, jewellers, Jewelry, responsibility, social
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