Ethical, Transparent, Traceable: Who Says?
“Is armed conflict always wrong? What is child labour, and is it always wrong? If gemstones come from land taken from indigenous people without compensation, are those gemstones ethical? Are your employees paid a living wage and equal pay for equal work, if not, are you ethical?” Just a few of the questions posed last week by Dana Schorr at the Gem-A ethics debate, which I had the pleasure of chairing. Having challenged the audience to question every one of the speakers’ assertions, I soon had a lively debate on my hands!
Facing a packed conference room were three speakers with decades of ethical jewellery experience between them. Challenging our notions of what is ethical or moral, Dana illustrated many of the worse – some would say inevitable – consequences of globalisation. He also tested the right of corporations to determine what is ethically or morally acceptable. Which begs the question, is the work of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) lust marketing then? And different cultures have different standards, does that make the case for moral relativism?
Dana works out of Santa Barbara, California, where he set up Schorr Marketing in 1980 to import and export rough and cut gemstones, a decision he made after falling in love with gemstones at Tucson shows. His career encompasses buying in Thailand and India, representing miners in Tanzania, and opening a cutting factory in Sri Lanka. These days he promotes manufacture in Asia and is a big noise on AGTA and ICA committees.
Apologising for what he acknowledged might appear an anti-corporate rant, Greg Valerio – once described as the most dangerous bastard in the jewellery industry – made an impassioned plea for real solutions by real people; building a system and process that verifies the truth and builds confidence, transparency and traceability. He cautioned that the finer motives of CSR shouldn’t be allowed to be swallowed up by corporatism, subsumed by the profit motive, or abandoned as a consequence of change of ownership. What he wanted to see was sustainable economic impact on the ground. And he rejected Dana’s assertion that the trade and public balk at the cost of ethical assurance, “you mean you don’t want to pay!”
Greg comes from background in human rights and environmental advocacy, setting up CRED as a development and education network in 1991 following trips to Tanzania and Ethiopia. His initial focus was human rights, the environment, and economic justice for the poor. In 1996 he set up CRED jewellery to retail fair trade green-gold and platinum, as a test bed and model for what could be achieved. Greg has received many accolades for his work, in 2013 he wrote a best-selling book – Making Trouble: Fighting for Fair Trade Jewellery – describing his journey so far. Having relinquished the running of CRED he has subsequently worked with the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), the JEC-UK, and is soon to become a consultant for the Gem-A.
Reminding us that small businesses form the majority of the jewellery supply chain and corporations are effectively standing on the shoulders of the small guy, Vivien Johnson – a consultant specialising in responsible sourcing of precious metals, diamonds and gems – concluded that there is little sense in dumping the good things we already have, simply because we find it hard to define what is ethical, or we suspect the motives of big corporations. She cautioned against an approach to CSR that becomes simply a tick box activity that fails to capture examples of best practice, to educate, or develop. Endorsing the work done by Branded Trust in co-operation with the Gem-A and the World Jewellery Federation (CIBJO) to produce a holistic approach to CSR and a toolkit for success Vivien commended their new online course.
Vivien has over fifteen years’ experience in the jewellery sector, and first-hand knowledge of ethical consumer brands having founded Fifi Bijoux in 2006 as a sustainable business model promoting ethics in mining and jewellery. Fifi Bijoux uses exclusively traceable and ethical sources, and its success led to numerous consultancy assignments for Vivien in the USA, China, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and mainland Europe. Having racked up accolades as a young social entrepreneur she is currently the chairperson for JEC-UK and a consultant on ethical issues for the Gem-A.
I still lament the slow pace of change over the last decade, but I came away from time in the hot seat with some over-riding impressions. First, the ethical message has more effectively percolated the industry than I had feared. Second that there is still a great thirst for more knowledge. And last, if we could harness the goodwill and energy that was in the room last week, we could make massive strides towards a transparent jewellery sector.