Bogota, Colombia. Nov. 16, 2018. A friend of mine likened his participation in last year’s Congress organized by the World Jewellery Federation, or CIBJO, as hobnobbing with “the jewelry illuminati.” That’s because the annual meeting of the 92-year-old organization that calls itself the United Nations of jewelry is chock full of meaty topics and top industry minds. And having attended the 2018 event in Bogota, Colombia, from Oct. 15–17, with more meetings happening two days prior, I can confidently concur that the experience was indeed dramatic.
I attended on behalf of the Cultured Pearl Association of America (CPAA), which I serve as part-time executive director. The CPAA was joining to secure voting rights and hopefully to help guide legislation that affects the way the industry in the U.S. and abroad conducts business.
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Wearing my journalist hat, I also attended myriad other meetings for other sectors in jewelry, such as coral and diamonds. It was a long week of three rounds of meetings for each commission—pearls, coral, gemstones, diamonds, gemology, precious metals, and responsible sourcing. There were also panel discussions and an impressive speaker on blockchain who masterfully broke it down for attendees. I won’t lie, though, it was tough at times to remain alert through hundreds of minutes of the minutia and nuances of each sector and its terminology. I love sinking my teeth into complex topics, but this week was challenging.
The executives in attendance also lent weight to the already serious subject matters at hand. A sampling of esteemed attendees includes Stephane Fischler, president of the World Diamond Council; Edward Johnson, director of business development for the Responsible Jewellery Council; and Tyler Gillard, head of the Responsible Mineral Supply Chain Project for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD).
During the congress, attendees get granular discussing jewelry nomenclature (including the lack of universal standards for color terms like Pigeon’s Blood red), disclosure, and the rules and regulations of organizations like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, whose policies affect the jewelry world. And while each attendee had specific areas of concern, everyone attends for the same purpose: to ensure the global jewelry industry presents itself truthfully and ethically for the benefit of collectors. The most notable topline concern and topic of conversation, however, was corporate social responsibility or CSR. It affects every player, big and small, and has evolved into much more than a way to sell with a philanthropic hook; it’s now part of the DNA of successful businesses like Chopard, which announced earlier this year that it would use only 100 percent ethical gold in its jewelry.
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CIBJO exists to educate sectors to comply with unified standards and guidelines that will benefit the global jewelry market. CIBJO wants members to mitigate risk in supply chains (such as purchasing gems from areas of the world with bribe cultures) while best serving every facet of its participants. But the industry also needs to acknowledge that not all supply chains are capable of compliance—at least not immediately. Acts committed in “good faith” are meaningful, especially when the worldwide market benefits.
“Adopt new techniques to show that you have managed your risk,” urged Gillard. “Due diligence is about making efforts.”
Erick Jens, an independent financial consultant and the vice president of CIBJO Responsible Sourcing Commission, noted the importance of CSR for standard business practices that ultimately translate to strong reputations and financial wellbeing.
“Too few know what CSR means outside of this room and are still not engaged,” he said, urging audience members to become familiar with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
Meanwhile, RJC’s Edward Johnson said he had been getting strong requests from retailers for more information for due diligence guidelines and the adoption of responsible practices, despite their price tags. “There is a cost to be doing business responsibly, and it’s necessary to build it into the process,” he said.
Reinforcing Johnson’s proclamation was a video presentation from Signet’s vice president of corporate affairs, David Bouffard, who serves as the chairman of the Responsible Jewellery Council. “Signet has 260 suppliers who are members, and that represents 95 percent of our suppliers,” he said. “The CIBJO responsible sourcing policy is a clear explanation for retailers to undertake due diligence with their own supply chains.”
Still, there’s another responsibility: sharing good jewelry-specific news. Added Jens, “Diamonds are way more than a love story—they do good, look at Botswana, are we telling the consumer? This is how we make sure the next generation is buying gemstones.”
For sure, this whole process will not happen overnight, but industry leaders now demand real effort and transparency. Adds Gillard, “There’s no more hiding in dark corners.”
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