Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), will be in conversation with Jewellery Outlook Editor David Brough in a webinar entitled “Shaping a Sustainable Post-Covid Era.”
To Watch Replay, please click on this link
In the below interview with Jewellery Outlook Editor David Brough, Iris says that as we move towards a new era post the coronavirus pandemic, companies will need to rethink how they can make supply chains more transparent, socially conscious and environmentally friendly.
Do you think that the COVID-19 emergency will lead to increasing demand post-lockdown for sustainability throughout the jewellery and gemstone supply chain?
Yes. Absolutely. This is a life-changing moment: the sustainability movement will gain further relevance in the post COVID-19 era.
As we cope with this crisis, leadership values are now becoming self-evident truths. Consumers want to know how companies are dealing with the crisis — how they are protecting people and communities.
We should not forget this crisis is a symptom underscoring the urgency of climate action.
The crisis is delivering a shock to the global economy and to the jewellery industry. Many retail businesses are temporarily closed, brands are adjusting to declining customer spending, millions of people are affected –furloughed or out of work because of reduced or cancelled orders.
I believe that companies that embrace sustainability as part of their business recovery strategy will be resilient for the long-term.
Firstly, like any industry, our industry recovery will need support of bold and timely economic policies from governments around the world to mitigate the economic damage and help build confidence in the economy and focus on recovery.
These measures are essential to protect people’s livelihoods. Governments and business will need to work more closely together to tackle the crisis. Time is of the essence.
Second, we work in an industry of beauty and emotions. We connect hearts and minds. Consumers always expect trust when they buy a piece of jewellery to celebrate a significant moment in their lives.
Early research shows that the post-COVID consumer will prioritize trust and true purpose even more and will evaluate companies based on how they acted during and after the crisis.
LVMH has converted three of its perfume manufacturing facilities where it normally makes fragrances for its Christian Dior, Givenchy and Guerlain brands to make hand sanitizer instead.
De Beers has contributed $2.5 million towards aid in Botswana and Namibia and has converted 3D printers that usually develop parts for synthetic-diamond detection machines to make headbands for face shields worn by health-care staff.
Tiffany and the Richemont Group are leading similar efforts. Efforts like these are aspirational, considering how much strain individual companies and the overall industry are facing.
Third, in a very short period of time, it has become amply evident that the health of our planet and people are inextricably linked to the health of our businesses.
We are only as strong as our weakest link – if this was a platitude or cliché earlier, it is a fact now.
And we need to look at our supply chains as interconnected economic and social webs where we must protect the most vulnerable.
I believe expectations will be reset for the entire industry around greater collaboration, transformative partnerships and collective responsibility across all parts of the value chain.
Finally, we have a huge opportunity to create a more healthy and resilient equal society that is balanced with nature. It is all about turning Purpose into Action – I call it the Purpose-People Planet Economic Model.
I believe the companies that will prosper will be those who move beyond compliance, take care of their people, manage supplier and customer relationships with integrity, embrace climate measures and have strong management systems to integrate sustainability into their core strategy.
While this crisis has caused great disruption and often has exposed weaknesses in many companies’ operations, now companies will need to rethink how they can shorten the supply chains and make them more transparent, socially conscious and environmentally friendly.
How we act now to drive the sustainability agenda will have effects for years, if not decades to come.
Ripple effects of the crisis — such as the impact on people’s mental health, the disproportionate effect on women and children and the obviously non-uniform geographic toll of this virus – will become evident for businesses, especially industries with global supply chains such as ours. How we manage and mitigate these is up to us.
Will the requirements for a sustainable jewellery making supply chain be led by Millennial/Gen Z consumers or by the industry itself?
The push will come from both directions. A business will always need to stay relevant to its customer. This pandemic that has upended millions of lives and businesses will have a big impact on all our consumer behaviour.
Millennial and Gen Z consumers want a company to lead on sustainability efforts. They do not just want a company to tell but to show. We know they deeply care about climate change. They demand more from their digital and personalized shopping experiences and they want to understand the story behind the product.
A recent survey in December 2019 of people aged 18-25 in 22 countries around the world, found that climate change was their most pressing concern.
Recent polling by Ipsos conducted across 14 countries shows 71% of respondents believe that in the long-term Climate Change is as serious a crisis as COVID-19.
Having only been in this world for a short amount of time, Millennials and Gen Z are being told that the activity of their parents has set them up for an uncertain future.
Now young people are taking the issue into their own hands, not only through their activism but with their preferred consumer choices.
Obviously the COVID 19 impact will only accelerate this mindset.
These eco-conscious Millennials and Gen Z consumers won’t be putting their beliefs to one side. They will continue to lead the conversations, and we as industry need to show the beauty we create and the great work we are doing.
A recent Bain Company study showed that companies that commit to sustainability during the crisis will come out stronger with more solid customer and supplier relationships, enhanced corporate reputation and improved loyalty and productivity.
Those that do not will face serious ramifications that could — even more than the virus itself — threaten their survival.
Business needs to lead on sustainability, and I believe the trend will continue – there is no option B anymore.
What, in your view, are the most essential components of a truly sustainable supply chain and final jewellery product?
In my view a truly sustainable supply chain is grounded in a shared responsibility and a social contract between different actors involved in creating product responsibly.
Supply chains are often complex, multi-tiered and interconnected, and as the world evolves, what it means to be responsible and sustainable also evolves.
Whether it is human rights, labour conditions, anti-corruption measures or environmental impact, no aspect of responsible production can be viewed in isolation.
So we take an integrated approach to responsibility, recognising it as an ongoing journey of transformation.
There are different responsibilities that must be demanded, governed, complied with by traders, suppliers, designers, manufacturers, logistics providers, buyers, retailers, investors, employees and ultimately the consumer who makes a choice from which company they buy.
Materials, people, distribution, creative processes and retail – the interfaces between these components of the supply chain, require a collective effort.
In order for this to be truly sustainable, there are some values that are (or should be) entirely non-negotiable.
These include a commitment to human rights, fair and environmentally-friendly sourcing practices, transparency across the various components and a set of strong leadership business values.
The need for factoring in the true cost of doing business is now paramount – in other words, we can no longer ignore the cost to the planet.
And of course, all of this has to make economic sense to ensure that we aren’t just paying lip service to these values.
The RJC Code of Practices covers the full scope of management practices and is an excellent tool for businesses to integrate sustainability at the heart of their operations and supply chain management.
I recognize that there is often a long journey ahead when it comes to properly managing supply chains, given the intricate nature of our global multi-tiered supply chains.
I see the road to a truly sustainable supply chain as a process of continuous improvement and a collective effort by the industry.
What are the main priorities of the RJC in terms of improving the sustainability of the supply chain across precious metals, diamonds and coloured gemstones? What progress has been made so far?
We were founded in 2005 by 14 member organisations, including ABN AMRO, BHP Billiton Diamonds, Cartier, CIBJO-World Jewellery Confederation, Diamond Trading Company (part of De Beers), Diarough, Jewelers of America, National Association of Goldsmiths (UK), Newmont Mining, Rio Tinto, Rosy Blue, Signet Group, Tiffany & Co., and Zale Corporation, with a pioneering vision for unifying the jewellery industry’s approach to ensuring responsible practices through its supply chains.
Today, our membership has grown in excess of 1,200 companies.
What unites us is our shared belief that responsible business is good business.
We have set the global standard for the responsible jewellery industry, covering the whole jewellery supply chain from mine to retail. What was a ground-breaking approach then in 2005, remains unique today.
Ultimately, what we stand for, and stand up for, is integrity: through our supply chains, in our work, and of our membership.
Together, we are helping transform the world’s jewellery supply chains to be responsible and sustainable.
In 2019 we took some important steps that equip us to support our members now and into the future.
First, we revised and launched an updated version of our unique Code of Practice (COP).
This was an important milestone for us. Our new Code of Practice is now aligned with the OECD Due Diligence Code and the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, achieving strategic and practical alignment for our members.
We also extended our scope to platinum group metals, silver and coloured stones, so that the global standard represented by the RJC’s COP can have ever greater reach and influence across the jewellery supply chain.
We also launched an SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Action Platform in 2019 in collaboration with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), and we will take this work forward with the launch of an SDG Taskforce in 2020.
As an organisation, we too must evolve to succeed in the decade ahead. Our priorities include transforming the way we work to be more efficient, strengthening our relationship with members and serving them better. Our close collaboration with CIBJO and JVC and our recent cooperation with the Diamond Producers Association on supporting the Jewellery Support Network reflects this vision.
At the same time, we want to attract more diverse member companies from across the industry, knowing that this diversity will only strengthen the implementation of the Code further.
We are a platform for catalysing change through the supply chains of our members, and provide a forum for sharing perspectives, exchanging ideas and finding solutions to shared challenges.
We have an important role to play as the voice for the industry on critical social and environmental issues, helping to accelerate industry-wide progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
It is through our Members First Strategy and transformative partnerships such as with the UNGC that we will achieve lasting change in the jewellery industry.