The watch and jewellery industry finally joins the global conversation on sustainability and ethical production
The watch and jewellery industry is on track to champion sustainability and human rights
“As of July this year, 100 per cent of the gold we use will be ethically and responsibly sourced.” Thus began Chopard’s commitment at Baselworld 2018. The brand’s announcement sparked off a robust conversation on the topic of sustainability and ethical practices in the world of jewellery and watchmaking. “It’s a huge issue all over the world, in every industry from fashion to food and cars,” said Caroline Scheufele, the artistic director and co-president of Chopard, “but in watches and jewellery, the ultimate luxury, has somehow been far behind these other industries.” It is certainly true that the global conversation surrounding sustainability and other related issues has not often involved this industry. More often than not, the focus is on fashion brands, which have gotten flak for failing to ensure adequate human rights standards along the production chain and for being environmentally unfriendly. With Chopard’s big announcement, the spotlight is now on the watch and jewellery brands to do its part.
Chopard has been creating high jewellery pieces using Fairmined gold and diamonds certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) for a number of years now, under the umbrella of its Green Carpet collection. The brand now pledges that 100 per cent of all of the gold used in all its watches and jewellery will be ethically sourced as of July this year. The brand obtains its gold in two ways; it buys artisanal freshly-mined gold from small-scale mines participating in Fairmined and Fairtrade schemes, and from mines supervised by the Swiss Better Gold Association. It also buys gold from Rjc-certified refineries. On top of
that, the brand works closely with Gemfields (one of the world’s leading suppliers of responsibly-sourced coloured gemstones) to procure gems from mines that operate ethically. Its emeralds, for instance, can be traced back to the Kagem mine in Zambia, and rubies to the Montepuez mine in Mozambique. When asked why it was taking such a big step forward, Scheufele said: “We really care about [the issue of sustainability and human rights]. All our raw materials come from the planet, and if we don’t take care how we extract [those materials], and whether the workers in the mines are exploited, then that’s not luxury. For us, as a family business, it’s a moral imperative.”
The moral imperative is indeed a compelling one, and Chopard is to be lauded for taking the step in the right direction—especially when the brand is absorbing the additional costs of this endeavour. “We don’t put it on the price tag,” Scheufele assures us. This is despite the fact that using ethically sourced gold will cost Chopard some five to 10 per cent more than traditionally sourced gold.
Absorbing the additional cost is possible with Chopard as it is a family-run business and is ultimately free to manage their business as it sees fit. Most other big companies, however, are less free to do so—profitability, after all, is much of the point of doing business.
To get over this stumbling block, it must make commercial sense for businesses as well. Awareness of and concern for sustainability issues is on the rise, particularly among the millennial generation. In a study done by the Business of Fashion and Mckinsey, 66 per cent of global millennials are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. And it is the brands, which lead the way in championing sustainability and human rights that will reap the commercial advantages of doing so. On the flipside, not ensuring that these issues are taken care of within the supply chain would not only be a detriment to the earth and to vulnerable communities, but would also be a public relations disaster. Cherie Blair, a CBE recipient and queens counsel lawyer and campaigner for human rights, put it this way: “You can no longer say that what goes on in the Congo stays in the Congo. Because what goes on in the Congo is a mobile phone photograph away from worldwide condemnation.” It is, in other words, in businesses’ best interest to take issues of sustainability, ethical sourcing, and human rights seriously.
To be fair, Chopard is not the only brand that has made progress. Tiffany & Co. has made big strides in integrating sustainability throughout its production process too, with 99.8 per cent of all of its precious metals and 100 per cent of all its diamonds directly traceable to specific mines, suppliers with multiple known mines, or precious metal recyclers
(which form a big part of the gold supply chain). It has also campaigned against opening mines in areas that could significantly impact the local ecosystem, such as the one near Yellowstone National Park in the US. According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published this year, Tiffany is also one of the few brands (if not the only one) that regularly conducts third-party audits of its supply chain. It supports the International Institute for Environment and Development in improving the living and working conditions in artisanal mining communities. Most notably, Tiffany was one of the brands leading the effort to implement the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which was established in 2000 to prevent conflict diamonds (that is, diamonds mined in war zones whose profits are used to fund war efforts) from entering the mainstream diamond market. Today, the Kimberley Process accounts for 99.8 per cent of the global production of rough diamonds. However, Tiffany has gone above and beyond the Kimberley Process, which it says does not adequately safeguard human rights and the environment. It requires that suppliers of polished diamonds provide a warranty that the gems were not sourced from areas known to have human rights abuses such as Zimbabwe and Angola. This falls in line with the position taken by HRW, which also highlights that the RJC’S measures may not be insufficient to weed out all ethical concerns in the mining of precious materials. Given that many companies are heavily reliant on the RJC to conduct inspections and certifications in their supply chain, this is an area with room for improvement.
It is for all of the abovementioned measures and more that Tiffany & Co. was the only company (out of 13 surveyed) deemed to have strong responsible sourcing policies by HRW. The comprehensive report selected brands reflecting different geographic markets and asked them to make clear their efforts towards responsible sourcing, which includes whether they supported small-scale artisanal mining and whether or not they published the names of their gold and diamond suppliers. Unfortunately, none of the brands on the report was rated excellent with Tiffany & Co. the only company that was rated strong (meaning it had taken significant steps towards responsible sourcing)
In the case of Chopard specifically, HRW cited a lack of published information on the brand’s due diligence towards safeguarding human rights, and the reluctance to name its suppliers as reasons for its poor performance. When asked, Scheufele explained: “We are happy to share a lot of information, but we are not going to give away all our sources, because this is confidential.”
It is difficult to achieve a balance between the need to be transparent and responsible, and the need to maintain corporate secrecy. The case of Chopard also highlights that
“You can no longer say that what goes on in the Congo stays in the Congo. Because what goes on in the Congo is a mobile phone photo away from worldwide condemnation.” — CHERIE BLAIR
while much work has already been done, there remains much more to do. Blair also advised moderation in chastising companies that have not performed well in their due diligence reports, saying “if we punish those who publish [negative data], then there will be fewer companies willing to do that reporting.”
Addressing human rights issues, and sourcing for jewellery and watches responsibly are extremely difficult and complex, with many aspects worthy of companies’ attention and action. It is not a problem that can be solved overnight. “What we’re looking for is engagement and acknowledge that there is a problem and work towards a solution,” said Blair. “What should not be expected is that we can solve the problem tomorrow. Because no one company can solve the big issues— Chopard can’t suddenly transform the places they source their materials from into places with developed world standards in education and job opportunities, but they can do their part in moving the needle.” And as Scheufele put it, “True luxury lies in knowing that that beautiful thing you fell in love with has been manufactured ethically, and hasn’t been tarnished in any way throughout the production process. If it’s not beautiful in its soul, then it’s not luxury.”
Caroline Scheufele, the co-president of Chopard, says that transitioning to ethical gold is a morally-led decision for the company, which is owned by the Scheufele family
The issues of ethics and human rights in mining areas are multi-faceted and complex. Even institutions deemed reliable, such as the RJC, may not be sufficent to ensure their protection
Chopard uses only ethically sourced minerals in its Green Carpet collection
Tiffany & Co. is perhaps the only jewellery company to have a Chief Sustainability Officer, Anisa Kamadoli Costa (left)
The Kimberley Process, which was implemented to remove conflict diamonds from the market, is not stringent enough to ensure the protection of human rights along the supply chain, say both Tiffany & Co. and Human Rights Watch
Tiffany & Co.’s diamonds are cut and polished by locallyhired skilled workers in its own facilities, allowing the brand to ensure a positive workplace environment