INTERVIEW – Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) is taking leadership in jewellery sector on Sustainable Development Goals


The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) is taking an active leadership role in driving forward an agenda in the jewellery sector to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). RJC Executive Director Iris Van der Veken, speaking on the sidelines of the RJC’s Winter Conference, explains why this is so essential.

  • The RJC has been instrumental in creating awareness and leading the agenda – why are you such an ambassador on the 2030 Agenda?

We have less than 10 years to achieve the SDGs and the time has come to raise the bar in addressing sustainability challenges. In 2020, the RJC celebrated 15 years of legacy. Since then, we have been building upon this achievement and laying out a path to 2030 that will catalyse and deliver further positive impact. We strongly believe that it is only by working in partnership that we can find paths through the financial and operational challenges posed by the pandemic and climate change. We want to support our members to become resilient and consumers need to be able to trust the integrity of the industry.

RJC Executive Director Iris Van der Veken
Iris Van der Veken

The 2030 Agenda is about leaving no one behind. Business can be a force for positive change and impact by supporting a global economy that protects people, the planet and the natural systems that sustain us. Business as usual is no longer an option. The RJC is determined to help business be a force for that change through transformative partnerships. By working together, we can greatly contribute to the urgent change needed to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the Decade of Action, and create a better fairer world by 2030.

As part of the RJC Roadmap 2030 strategy-, designed to deliver immediate and long-term impacts, RJC will continue to seek innovative partnerships to accelerate change and enable action throughout the global jewellery and watch supply chain – this is our promise to future generations.

  • Can you give us a little bit more background on the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs for the global jewellery industry?

We see that that sustainability is set to become an even greater differentiator for diamond jewellery retailers and brands.

The diamond industry is already a trailblazer in many areas when it comes to sustainability. There is a huge opportunity for the industry to demonstrate to consumers how it is meeting – and exceeding – their expectations.

Today’s consumers are looking for assurance of a brand’s sustainability credentials. For diamonds, this needs to go beyond provenance to also connect consumers to social purpose. At a practical level, sustainability certificates, third-party experts and stories about where diamonds come from will help meet consumer expectations in this area (per study findings) De Beers Insight Report.

Many brands are at the vanguard of sustainable development in the jewellery and watch industry. Some of the most famous jewellery brands were also founding RJC members. Brands increasingly understand that their reputation is built on integrity, the quality of their products, and their impact on communities. Hence, they lead by example.

They have played a key role in embarking on the sustainability journey in their supply chains. This is creating a ripple effect on the broader industry. The wider industry looks to the major brands for inspiration and direction. We see how they are at the forefront on topics such as women’s empowerment, circular economy and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG).

In 2020, RJC completed an extensive SDG mapping and materiality assessment based on its Code of Practices (CoP). This exercise was conducted to identify which goals and targets are most relevant to the jewellery and watch value chain and where it would be possible to achieve the greatest impact. 

As a result of this analysis, the RJC identified 6 out of the 17 goals which were classed as a priority for the jewellery and watch industry. These 6 priority SDGs are: 

  • SDG 5: Gender Equality
  • SDG 13: Climate Action
  • SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
  • SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 
  • SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals 

The RJC also released a framework titled ‘Roadmap to 2030 and beyond’ which provides a clear pathway of what we want to achieve in the lead up o 2030. The 2030 Roadmap has been aligned to the 17 SDGs and outlines the most impactful contributions our members can make through their supply chains to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

A new set of metrics have been developed to support the implementation of the 2030 Roadmap. Metrics will enable us to assess progress, promote behaviour change, report performance more comprehensively, and demonstrate measurable progress to stakeholders and investors.

The insights derived from the metric data will help inform strategy, drive innovation and deliver continuous improvement.

  • You also established an SDG Taskforce. Can you give us an update on the status of your work?

The SDG Taskforce is an action platform for the jewellery and watch industry to contribute to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. It consists of 26 members and is co-chaired by Feriel Zerouki, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, De Beers Group, and Matthew Kilgarriff, Director Corporate Social Responsibility, Richemont, with strategic guidance provided by Georg Kell, founder and former Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact.

The objectives of the Taskforce are to coordinate the efforts of the industry on SDG implementation and to function as a think-tank for new and collaborative projects. Taskforce members report regularly on progress made within their individual business streams through case studies within the RJC Annual Progress Report and they provide input into RJC strategic initiatives including the 2030 Roadmap and the ESG framework.

  • As per annual tradition, the RJC is hosting a winter conference, why is ESG the central topic of the conference?

We see ESG as business critical. It is our duty to inform and educate our members to bring them along the journey. Stakeholders and investors are increasingly expecting companies to report on non-financial information with the same rigour as financial disclosures. We also know that ESG factors are driving consumer preference. Research has shown that customers are willing to pay to “go green” and this in turn demands a more proactive response from the global jewellery and watch value chain. The business case is clear – transparency around ESG reporting makes your business more attractive for stakeholders and makes you more attractive as an employer. By mobilising action and facilitating ESG literacy amongst our membership, we are contributing to improving ESG performance of the global jewellery and watch industry.

  • What’s next?

Our strategic focus for 2022 will be on member training and education. The RJC is working alongside industry leaders such as Arabesque to develop an ESG framework for our members. We endeavour to increase the recognition of the RJC certification as a credible ESG risk management mechanism. We also want to help our members understand the ESG topics most material to their own business model.

We will focus in 2022 on education in enhanced due diligence and reporting. We are working on new toolkits in the area of human rights, gender and climate.

RJC is going through a Digital Transformation. At the heart of this strategic priority is our portal for our members. The new digital platform is an integral part of RJC’s 2030 Roadmap to deliver on its UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN 17 SDGs). Through the portal, RJC has developed new tools and training materials to support members in the implementation of responsible business practices. The new membership portal of RJC further enhances its data management and reporting on progress, especially with in-depth studies on the impact of the industry in the communities where RJC members operate.

These new and important updates are all part of our Members First Strategy. At RJC, we place great importance on our each and every one of our members and we delight in helping everybody progress on their sustainability journey. The time for action is now. Future regulations and requirements will require companies to start reporting and ensuring they are conducting their due diligence correctly and effectively. That is why here at RJC, we are one step ahead in helping you become ready and reassured as the world continues to place more and more importance on sustainability as the number global priority.

  • Global Witness launched a report this morning Conflict Rubies; How Luxury Jewellers Risk Funding Military Abuses in Myanmar.

Yes, indeed. We welcome our engagement with Global Witness and Human Rights Watch. No one can do this alone. We need to have constructive engagement and learn how we can aways improve and accelerate positive impact on the ground. That is a shared responsibility for governments, NGO’s and the private sector. In this context we are working on a new transparency reporting proposal that will be piloted in 2022.