Human Rights: Industry Could do Better... and so Could WatchdogsDecember 03, 20
The jewelry industry did not get good marks in its end-of-term report from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
None of the firms surveyed in the NGO's report, entitled Sparkling Jewels, Opaque Supply Chains, achieved an "excellent". Most were rated moderate, fair or weak, and a few got no score at all because they didn't bother handing in their homework - that's to say they didn't respond to HRW questions.
The report, published last week, is a substantial piece of research, thoroughly documented, bolstered with copious footnotes and running to almost 90 pages. It doesn't claim to be comprehensive. Rather it is a snapshot of 15 big players who collectively generate over $40bn a year to give an overall indication of how the industry is tackling then problems of exploitation, poor traceability, dangerous working conditions
There is, it concludes, a long way to. The authors acknowledge some progress since they conducted a similar exercise two years ago, but their overall verdict remains "could try harder".
Most jewelry companies still can't trace their gold and diamonds to the mines of origin, it says, and if they can, then they don't go the extra mile to carry out human rights either at the mine or at any other point along the supply chain.
This is, it says, a serious gap, given the legacy of human rights abuses in gold and diamond mining generally, and particularly now, with the additional risks posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The US jeweler Tiffany and Denmark-based Pandora both score highest, having taken "significant steps towards responsible sourcing" of gold, diamonds and other minerals and ensuring their supply chains were free of human rights abuses.
Chow Tai Fook (Hong Kong), Christ (Germany) and Tanishq (India) were all weak and four big players, Kalyan (India), Mikimoto (Japan), Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri Ltd. (TBZ)(India) and Rolex (Switzerland) failed to provide researchers with any information.
De Beers and Alrosa, which jointly control about half of the world's rough diamond production, weren't surveyed, but stand accused nonetheless of "making it effectively impossible for jewelry companies that source from them to have full traceability".
The shortcomings of the highlighted companies, and of their peers, in addressing human rights issues have a huge impact. At the far end of the pipeline seven million people around the world work in large-scale, industrial mining operations, in addition to the estimated 40 million who survive through artisanal and small-scale mining.
Another big miner, Petra Diamonds, doesn't feature in the report, but was blamed earlier this month by another human rights watchdog, UK-based RAID, for the deaths of seven people and injuries suffered by 41 at he hands of security staff at its Williamson mine, in Tanzania.
People had, it alleged, been "shot with little or no warning, stabbed, detained, stripped, beaten, incarcerated for days in a filthy and cramped holding cell by the mine's entrance, deprived of food and medical treatment, and/or handcuffed to hospital beds at the mine's medical facility." Petra is investigating and says the claims are "deeply concerning".
But it's not just the big corporations who are failing, according to the HRW report. Worryingly it reserves particularly scathing criticism for the bodies who volunteer to police the industry, notably the Kimberley Process (KP), the World Diamond Council (WDC) and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). They aren't tough enough, it says.
KP, established 20 years ago to prevent rebel forces funding their wars with blood diamonds, is certifying gems from Zimbabwe's Marange for export, it says, despite "serious human rights abuses".
The report highlights an incident in 2018 in which security forces beat and abused residents after protests against mining turned violent, hospitalizing three children.
As for the World Diamond Council, its system of warranties guidelines does not require full traceability, transparency, or robust on-the-ground human rights assessments from their members, says HRW.
And the RJC, the leading jewelry industry association, with over 1,200 members, doesn't insist on compliance with key international human rights instruments such as conventions on forced labor, freedom of association, collective bargaining, and the rights of indigenous people.
The fundamental problem is that these bodies can encourage but can't enforce. Voluntary standards are just that: Voluntary.
Ultimately, the report concludes, "only mandatory human rights due diligence rulesâ€”national or regional lawsâ€” will create a level playing field and move the whole industry in the right direction."
Have a fabulous weekend!