INTERVIEW – Urgent action needed in gems and jewellery industry to improve livelihoods of millions


By David Brough

Urgent action is needed in the gems and jewellery industry to improve the plight of millions of workers and their families and drag them out of poverty into more sustainable livelihoods, industry leaders told a virtual UN summit.

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), the industry’s leading standards setting organisation, has a partnership with the United Nations Global Compact, which encourages businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies.

The RJC staged a session at the UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit this week to drive forward a pledge to meet 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

In the gems and jewellery industry, poverty is a huge challenge facing millions of miners, notably in precious metals and gemstones where much of the production is artisanal in developing countries.

“This is a clear global plan: People, Peace, Planet and Prosperity. It is a collective shared responsibility for all industries,” said Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director of the London-based RJC.

“Every aspect of the supply chain needs to be connected to create a more sustainable future. Transformative partnerships are needed to bring the public and private sector more closely together to create systemic change.”

Panellists on the RJC session, later interviewed by Jewellery Outlook, said the urgency to achieve the SDGs was even greater due to the coronavirus pandemic and global economic emergency.

Gaetano Cavalieri, President of CIBJO-World Jewellery Confederation, said: “In many respects, it may have been the most important Leadership Summit in the UN Global Compact’s history.

“Compared to years gone by, where discussions usually were mixed with generous helpings of ceremony and social events, this year’s event featured people speaking from their own homes or offices, all of whom are looking for practical solutions to the predicament in which humanity currently finds itself.

“The SDGs were discussed this time not so much as aspirational goals, but more as real solutions for the crisis in which we find ourselves.

“It was clear to all participants that size and revenue will not effectively shield a business when public health and economic stability are at risk.

“And like with Covid-19, it is not enough that we look out for our own narrow interest, because the way in which others act will impact on us as well.

“This means that we need to create a common approach and strategies, and that is what the Global Compact is about.

In the jewellery industry, our mission must be to continue the dialogue and work together. We all depend upon it.”

De Beers Group is actively implementing Covid-19 community response plans across southern Africa, said Feriel Zerouki, Senior Vice-President of International Relations and Ethical Initiatives at De Beers, one of the world’s biggest diamond miners.

“Supporting communities has never been more important. They are home to the men and women who work at our operations,” she said.

“The health of our communities is directly linked to the health of our business and we are doing all that we can to protect the sustainability of both.”

De Beers Group is piloting GemFair, a programme that aims to connect artisanal and small-scale miners to the global market through digital technology and assurance of ethical working standards.


UN Global Compact


Raj Mehta, a director of diamond manufacturer Rosy Blue, said that if companies and governments can move effectively towards achieving the SDGs, consumer confidence will improve, increasing employment and income in the diamond jewellery industry, and contributing towards economic growth.

“The RJC is bringing together the supply pipeline from mine to finger so that sustainable production can enable enhanced transparency and traceability, responsible sourcing and create greater consumer confidence,” Mehta said.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers have stepped up demands for a responsible and sustainable supply chain in gems and jewellery and other luxury industries, according to several industry studies.

“All the actors must contribute to achieving the SDGs. Everyone must do his or her job,” said Giorgio Bodei, director of production and planning at Italian fine jeweller Pomellato.

The coronavirus emergency could lead to greater consolidation across the luxury industry, with larger groups buying up smaller ones, panellists said.

Consolidation will pile even more pressure on the larger luxury brands to move in the direction of sustainability.

“Companies (and governments) have to do this (work to achieve the SDGs) because they want to,” Bodei said.

“The RJC has the power to influence businesses, because it is in a position to push forward a strategy in a good direction.”