Iris Van Der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary General, Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 (WJI 2030), is working towards finding solutions to create a better global watches and jewellery industry, by engaging with members and stakeholders to develop more sustainable practices in climate, environment and human resources, and to restore harmony with our planet. Jewellery Outlook Editor David Brough caught up with Iris for a “deep dive” interview while she attended COP28 in Dubai.
What are the key discussions about at COP28?
The urgent need to act and accelerate. Many companies are already adopting climate-smart practices, such as switching to renewable energy sources and conserving water. But we are not moving forward fast enough. We must be more ambitious, adopt more sustainable practices, and play a decisive role in restoring harmony with our planet.
We are in a critical moment in history as the world is off-target to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, which aimed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. It’s very clear that governments and the private sector, and civil society, need to deliver real, pragmatic outcomes, practical solutions, that will get us back on track to achieving less than 1.5°C, and the financial targets to be able to succeed. Every fraction of a degree matters now to help people and nature.
To achieve this goal, countries will need to, among other things, phase out fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas), while accelerating the transition to clean energy from renewable sources. This is the most effective way to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Financial support is also needed to help developing countries develop and implement their climate plans. As vulnerable countries bear the brunt of climate impacts, they also need finance to help them adapt.
For us as an industry we all need to integrate climate action and nature at the heart of our business strategy. Mother nature is the centre of life on Earth. Ecosystems – from forests, grasslands and oceans, to rivers, savannahs and mountains – provide a vast range of services vital to the survival of humanity. They provide food and fresh water, protect us from disasters and disease, prop up the global economy, and crucially play a central role in tackling the climate crisis.
Without protecting and restoring our ecosystems, we have no chance of achieving the Paris goals, and we all accountable for this.
This week has been a great experience in connecting with experts and exploring collaborations to support our members in their journey of climate action and nature pathway. We need to think out of the box, not reinvent the wheel and work together. I applaud the work of John Mulligan from the World Gold Council who has been a real mentor for me to shape our climate work in collaboration with BCG, BSR and the Global Compact.
Iris Van Der Veken, Executive Director of WJI 2030, at COP28 in Dubai
For our global readers who have not yet engaged with the Initiative
How or why was it founded? What is the mission/goal/vision?
WJI 2030 was founded in 2022 by Cartier and Kering driven by the common conviction that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aspirations for a sustainable industry can only be achieved through collaborative initiatives.
The initiative brings together CEOs and decision-makers from across the supply chain to create meaningful measurable impact on three key pillars: climate resilience, preserving resources, and inclusiveness.
Our members engage with global experts on business and sustainability in a multi-stakeholder ecosystem. Our work is committed to delivering concrete and measurable impact to the global jewellery and watch industry and society at large. In our demanding and ever-evolving consumer and regulatory landscape, we work to guide our members to be fit for purpose, building trust through transparency and measured progress.
We firmly believe the global jewellery and watch industry faces unique opportunities to make a positive impact. The vision is to create a fully sustainable Watch & Jewellery industry that is resilient to climate change, preserves resources and fosters inclusiveness, and to unite Watch & Jewellery brands committing to ambitious goals while collaborating on projects that deliver impact all along the value chain.
We all know the SDGs are off track. How is WJI 2030 moving the needle?
Indeed currently, a concerning 85% of the SDGs are not on track for achievement by 2030, underscoring the imperative for the industry to embrace an even more ambitious role as forward thinkers, doers, innovators, leaders, and agents of transformative action. By setting 2030 as our target date, WJI 2030 emphasizes the need for collective ambition and immediate action within the industry to bring the world closer to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.
For example, if we take WJI 2030 climate resilience goal, which aims to reduce carbon emissions in line with the 1.5°C pathway by 2030, brands and companies joining the initiative should engage in signing and submitting the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), thus setting science-based emission reduction targets. We support our members in stepping up through guidance and practical toolkits, of course they need to action. But they are not alone , we give helpdesk support and through our reporting framework that is in the final stage of development , our members are held accountable.
We also recently launched our Nature Primer. We acknowledge that every company is at a different stage and has its own material topics to manage. Our industry sources raw materials, such as precious and non-precious metals, gemstones, leather, from many parts of the world and these materials are transformed through processes requiring skill and precision — sometimes ancient and traditional, other times highly technological. Raw materials are either extracted from the Earth (mined) or cultivated from plants or animals (e.g., leather) as a result all companies have a dependency and an impact on nature. Yet, nature-related risks and opportunities will look very different depending on the material itself, the stage of production, and the geography or landscape of its origin. The WJI 2030 Nature Primer is a step towards an Industry level Nature Positive Roadmap. The Roadmap will focus on how the Watch and Jewellery industry can contribute to a Nature Positive world. Impacts on people and climate are very much part of the nature equation. This Primer is here to provide our members with a starting point and to guide them in their journey. In parallel, we are setting up an ESG Framework to strengthen transparency and reporting on progress. Next week in Paris at the BJOP we are launching our Human Rights Navigator. As the legislation is accelerating we believe it is critical to give practical solutions that help our members to be fit for purpose and build capacity in due diligence throughout their extended suppliers network. If we do not get the SMEs on board , there is no responsible supply chain. We will continue to invest in education. Our strategic collaboration with the Global Compact and CIBJO is instrumental. In January we launch our Solutions Lab that is a curated digital space open to our members and suppliers to receive training on the material topics like climate, bio diversity, human rights due diligence etc.
What about governance? How will you hold your members accountable?
We recognize, and strongly believe, that a solid governance framework within WJI 2030 is mission critical to establish a solid ecosystem for our members to operate in and support us on our journey in delivering measurable impact. Acting with integrity and transparency serves as the foundation for all of WJI 2030’s activities.
To determine our governance structure, in 2022 we started governance consultations to first identify topics that were relevant for WJI 2030, covering governance and integrity aspects. These were derived from internal discussions and exchanges with experts and advisors; the analysis of governance structures and practices of similar organisations; and a review of global governance trends as well as relevant standards and frameworks. This research and analysis allowed us to draft an initial governance structure for WJI 2030 that was then shared with key stakeholders through our stakeholder engagement process for feedback and further input. The conversations added valuable insights on the topics identified as relevant, as well as on topics seen as likely to gain importance in the short to medium term. Following the stakeholder consultations, we further adapted the governance structure before presenting it to the WJI 2030 Board.
For example our multi-stakeholder governance model ensures that industry players from different parts of the supply chain are represented, whilst also ensuring we have 2 independent directors on our Board, Dr. Anino Emuwa, Founder of 100 Women @ Davos, and Georg Kell, founder UNGC.
Picture shows: Dr. Anino Emuwa, Founder of 100 Women @ Davos; Sophie Doireau-Tiberghien, CEO Middle East, India and Africa at Cartier; and Iris Van Der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary General, WJI 2030
We have also set up various strategic governance committees that contribute to our multi-stakeholder model.
For example, the purpose of the Multi-Stakeholder Engagement Committee is to represent and provide the views of non-industry, non-WJI 2030 Members. The Committee will be composed of representatives from: non-governmental organisations, academic and research institutions, and other international institutions. The committee will have an appointed share, who will have a seat and a vote on the Board, echoing the voice of NGO’s and civil society in our Board. In our committee we will have representation from IUCN (International union for conservation of nature), Pact, Alliance for Responsible mining, SAI, and WWF (world wide fund for nature).Independence and protection of the Initiative is also critical. The Risk & Compliance Committee has been set up to provide oversight and, where appropriate, provide advice and recommendations to the Board on the implementation and operation of WJI 2030’s compliance framework. This committee is made up of independent recognized experts with relevant experience in the fields of legal and/or compliance, due diligence, anti-money laundering and KYC, auditing, investigation, grievance mechanisms.
And as a final point we are finalising our reporting mechanism ( 12 months of hard work) in collaboration with ESG Book, WJI 2030 have been building a Reporting Framework with metrics aligned to WJI 2030 Goals and inspired by dominant regulations and frameworks. This is key for us, as we cannot report on progress without it. Actions need to be concrete, as well as measurable.
Picture shows (from left) Ann Rosenberg – (10) Ann Rosenberg | LinkedIn; Dr. Anino Emuwa, Founder of 100 Women @ Davos; Iris Van Der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary General, WJI 2030; and Ony Emuwa.
At the COP 28 a lot of discussion is also happening on gender. You have championed this cause. Any updates?
Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women. Women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labour markets compound inequalities and often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation. Yet, women can (and do) play a critical role in response to climate change due to their local knowledge of and leadership in e.g. sustainable resource management and/or leading sustainable practices at the household and community level.
By 2050, climate change will push up to 158 million more women and girls into poverty and lead to 236 million more women into hunger.
At WJI 2030 our third pillar is focused on inclusiveness. At the General Assembly in NY we launched a case study on gender responsive procurement. UN Women has recently introduced the WEPs Gender-Responsive Procurement Assessment Tool to help companies gauge their progress on GRP policies and practices. To test this Tool, UN Women partnered with us to launch a pilot programme that evaluates gender-responsive procurement in the jewellery industry. Nine members of WJI 2030 took part in this pioneering global initiative, marking the first-ever endeavour to apply the tool within an industry-specific context, and aiming to assess and enhance gender equality practices within the jewellery sector. Companies participating in the pilot included Cartier, Dimexon, Gucci, Italpreziosi, Julie Sandlau Vietnam, Monica Vinader, Rosy Blue, Rubel & Menasché and Swarovski.
Picture shows Parissima Lempereur, Chief of Staff to Cartier CEO, Middle East, India, Africa and Turkey; Dr. Anino Emuwa, Founder of 100 Women @ Davos; Iris Van Der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary General, WJI 2030; and Sophie Doireau-Tiberghien, CEO Middle East, India and Africa at Cartier
As the first phase of the pilot project on gender-responsive procurement concluded, pilot companies’ demonstrated real commitment to gender equality, speaking volumes about companies’ dedication to fostering positive change for gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. However, the report also brought to light common challenges evidencing the need to move forward faster to create gender equality now more than ever. We need a gender lens throughout the procurement processes .WJI 2030, and UN Women and the pilot participants are now exploring a second pilot phase to involve their suppliers, and to co-design GRP tools and resources to continue to strengthen gender equality in global supply chains. If we truly want to empower women , they need to have decision making power and they need to be partners in our supply chains. Women are uniquely positioned to act as powerful agents of change.
You have been working for over two decades in our industry: what major changes have you seen?
There has been a huge shift across various dimensions. First, we are looking at a very different set of consumer desires and expectations. Millennial and Gen Z consumers are asking brands to deliver on purpose, they are asking for coherent brand narratives with proof points, and they can see through greenwashing when they see it. They want brands and CEOs to step up to the multitude of collective challenges we face today.
Second, regulatory frameworks have evolved significantly. Never before have I seen such a surge in regulations that are touching our industry, all focused on increased transparency and reporting including, of course, stronger due diligence on human rights, biodiversity, and climate.
And we should not forget the workforce of the future want to work for companies with Purpose. Today we see more and more the concept conscious quitters, people who leave because their values are not aligned with the values of the company they work for. Employees do care, and many care deeply, so we as an industry have a duty inspire and to be attractive and see we can continue to find talent in artisanal skills and innovation.
At an accelerated pace, I see companies are realising that they need to mature in the journey. There is also a huge positive push from the brands where they only want to work with reliable companies who take sustainability seriously.
Another example is traceability, which is the heart of integrity within our industry. My opinion here is that we should view this not just from the lens of risk mitigation, but from a perspective of how this can help companies craft a positive narrative and an ‘origin story’ of impact for their products. As a consumer, if I am holding a diamond in my hand, I am now much more interested and curious about how my choice (and my spend) might be empowering communities, how it might be impacting climate resilience or biodiversity preservation. These linkages were considered far-fetched until recently but luckily that has changed now.
There was also a time when transparency wasn’t just low on the priority list, it could be quite difficult to get accurate information and data. Given the changes in both the supply and demand for accurate data and reporting, we will continue to see companies invest in integrated technology solutions to track data not just on traceability but on all key topics like human rights, nature impact, climate etc. The recent G7 discussions will only accelerate this trend.
Lastly, as an industry we need to remember that we are perceived as a unified category by our consumers. Behaviour that is viewed in an unfavourable light, even if it is the result of only one of the players, ultimately impacts us all.
As an industry (jewellery/watches), where are we when it comes to sustainability? And how far do we have to go?
Our industry has a great responsibility because we are an industry of beauty and emotions. We have a duty to go further. We need to rethink how we will create jewellery from design to after care. We need to explore further how we can integrate circularity in our business model.
Progress in effecting supply chain sustainability in our industry is never simple or easy, especially given the complexity of our supply chains. However, we now see deeper collaboration and sharing of best practices that have the potential to enable quantum leaps across all dimensions of sustainability. Traceability and transparency will need more attention than ever before, and companies will need to adopt disruptive technologies and innovation to help them accelerate the progress towards their sustainability goals through reliable data points. For this to be truly sustainable, there are some values that are (or should be) entirely non-negotiable. These include operationalisation of human rights due diligence, environmentally friendly sourcing practices, transparency across the various components and a set of ethical business values.
What does the future look like for the industry with regards to sustainability? What major changes do you expect, or hope, to see in the next 20 years?
Given the urgency we are facing on the climate and our biosphere today, companies, CEOs, and each one of us needs to step up. We need to now go beyond making strong commitments and start delivering on ambitious action plans for our value chains.
I believe that the emphasis on sustainability will continue to strengthen and accelerate with a particular focus on climate, bio diversity, human rights, and advancing engagement with vulnerable communities, such as the ASM communities. It is key that we bring ASM communities on the journey and demystify their roles. We need a serious mind shift in leadership that places emphasis on building and fostering communities and economies of care, rather than a sole focus on profitability. Every company will need to redefine its Purpose in this era of the conscious consumer, otherwise you will become irrelevant.
Regulations will continue to evolve and put pressure on companies to adapt and transform their business practices. Governance will need to be prioritised for everyone.
Finally, I am very hopeful because we are in an industry that derives its power from the power of human emotions and connection. Watches and jewellery create empowering bonds between people, and often across generations since they are carried over as intergenerational assets. The emotional currency of our products in people’s lives is strong and I do hope we will continue to strive so that our connected value chains hold true to consumer expectations of decency, dignity, and transparency.
The time to act is now!
Picture shows Nina Nepasova, Global Director, Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy, World Vision – (10) Nina Nepesova | LinkedIn; Cyrille Vigneron, President & CEO, Cartier SA; Iris Van der Veken, Executive Director & Secretary General, WJI 2030; and Anna Falth, Head of Women’s Empowerment Principles Secretariat, at UN Women
And what does the future look like for you?
Professionally I feel like I truly found my sense of belonging with the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030. I feel inspired every day by my supportive Board and our committed members and I love that I learn and work with so many new stakeholders across the watch and jewellery landscape. I really want our initiative to contribute to measurable impact on the ground to people and communities, It is also our ambition to share all our learnings and the solutions we are building with the wider industry and society at large. So yes I want to leave a positive legacy behind. Personally I hope to live a safe , peaceful and healthy life with the people I love and care for.
I was just at Rondine Cittadella della Pace for our members workshop hosted by Italpreziosi. The project that gave me rise and inspiration to Rondine is the Studentato Internazionale – World House: it hosts young people who come from countries that are the scene of armed conflicts or post-conflict and helps them to discover the human being in their enemy, through the difficult and surprising effort that comes from living together daily. Mentoring youth and sharing my experience is definitely something I would love to continue to do. More than ever we need leaders who embrace humanity and dignity for all. If I can make a small contribution to the leaders of tomorrow, I am a happy woman. Who knows what tomorrow will bring: I am open minded?