INTERVIEW – Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) chief urges strong action on global sustainability agenda

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By David Brough

Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), speaking on Human Rights Day, urged strong action on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs.)

The SDGs are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030.

Speaking on the 72nd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone document in the history of human rights, Van der Veken told Jewellery Outlook: “On the 10th of December 1948 the UN General Assembly in Paris proclaimed the Declaration as a common standard for all peoples and all nations.

“For the first time, it set out universally protected fundamental human rights. This year the theme is 2020: Recover Better – Stand Up for Human Rights.

“Today is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want and to share the message for the need for global solidarity and shared humanity across the world.”

Since 1948 progress has been made but much more needs to be done, Van der Veken said.

“No one can do this alone. It requires collective action. RJC has always believed in multi-stakeholder engagement that includes government, business and civil society.

“Our United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) collaboration, ISEAL Alliance membership since 2011 and our active participation in the Multi Stakeholder Group of the OECD since 2012, reflect our vision of inclusion and transparency.”Iris Van der Veken

Iris Van der Veken

The London-based RJC has maintained an ongoing dialogue with like-minded organisations like Human Rights Watch and others who are focused on continuous improvement in the area of human rights.

“We are committed to human rights, decent work conditions, and the advancement of livelihoods of people and communities,” Van der Veken said.

“Over the last 15 years, the RJC has established a truly global community of leaders on responsible business practices, launched our first base-line Code of Practices in 2009, increased our standards portfolio with a Chain of Custody model and a three-times revised Code of Practices,” she added.

“Our latest version launched at the OECD in Paris in April 2019 is aligned with the OECD due diligence guidance, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and has an increased scope into coloured stones and silver.”

The RJC’s membership has grown from 14 founding members to 1,300, of which 60% are small enterprises spread over 70 countries.

Growing RJC membership

“Our membership has continued to grow despite the pandemic. We see this as a step change in proving that responsible sourcing and sustainable supply chains are a critical ingredient for resilience and survival,” Van der Veken said.

“It is vital to continue to work hard on human rights due diligence implementation in partnership with our members. Education is key and my team is working hard to support our members in this journey.

“I want to take the opportunity to thank our members for their commitment to RJC. It is hard work and requires strong leadership and purpose in action every day.”

The right partnerships can create positive societal impact, the RJC Executive Director said.

“Partnerships are at the heart of the 2030 agenda – the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is about leaving no one behind.  We believe this is a shared responsibility.”

Harmonisation – interoperability of standards and synergies can really support impact on the ground, Van der Veken said.

“The launch next week of our Roadmap to 2030 and beyond reflects this vision. We welcome you to join our Anniversary Event: https://mailchi.mp/responsiblejewellery/rjc-15th-anniversary-event-dec-2813389

Women’s rights

Van der Veken is passionate about the need for improved women’s rights, and gender equality in the global jewellery and gemstone industries.

“Gender equality is presented as a necessary milestone to achieving all SDGs. It is considered a multiplier. We should not forget in our industry that women drive 90% of the jewellery demand globally,” she said.

“The reality is that we are not doing enough. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap report, it will take 257 years to close the economic gender gap.

“Historically, women are especially vulnerable during crises. COVID-19 is no different and already domestic violence and child marriage are on the rise.

“With schools and childcare services closed, women and girls are taking on most household and caregiving responsibilities.”

Women also represent 70% of health care workers globally and are more exposed to the virus on the front lines, Van der Veken said.

“From our industry perspective artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) needs our urgent attention,” she added.

“The ASM sector can have many positive impacts: rural employment opportunities, income for women who work as miners or in the surrounding mining communities, as well as mining being an economic activity that supports millions of families.

“We congratulate IMPACT for launching a new resource this week to better integrate gender equality in initiatives related to ASM around the world.

“The GemFair Way report shows great commitments and results in Sierra Leone, including pivoting their training programme to provide a digital offering for when they cannot bring people together, piloting a fair access to finance programme for ASM miners and scaling their training programme to other Mano River Union countries.”

Van der Veken added, “So yes we strongly believe the time is now to ring alarm bells and to accelerate action on the ground because the progress made to date on gender equality is in danger of not being reached.

“That is why we have started the Generation Equality Round Tables in partnership with CIBJO-World Jewellery Confederation.  I have had the privilege to work closely with many inspiring women and men in the past weeks to start our Generation Equality Dialogue.

“We are engaging with UN WOMEN, World Diamond Council, UNGC, WJA, JVC, NDC, BSR, JA, Plumb Club, Black in Jewelry Coalition, GIT just to name a few and we will be setting up regional multi-stakeholder dialogues in India, Africa, Thailand and the USA. The time is now. We look forward to supporting the industry at large in education-knowledge sharing and action on the ground.

“We believe it is important to engage in conversation and create opportunities for dialogue. Partnerships for progress are the only way forward.”