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September 1999

Management: Ethics

The Value of Disclosure

Ethicist Rushworth Kidder says the jewelry industry can handle its gemstone disclosure issues by following simple ethical standards

A day after sitting through a spirited two-hour debate on gemstone disclosure at the Gemological Institute of America's International Gemological Symposium in June in San Diego, CA, Rushworth Kidder told conference attendees the jewelry industry would receive high marks for its deliberative process where disclosure is concerned. "You had strong disagreements with no animosity and that's a good thing," he said.

Kidder cited another hallmark of ethical behavior: as an industry, jewelers are endeavoring to create standards of full disclosure before the government imposes them by law. For example, prominent industry members grappled throughout the symposium with how to tell consumers about new diamond technology such as Lazare Kaplan International's GE POL process, which changes the color of some diamonds (see pp. 23-24 and 130-131 of this issue for related stories).

The ethicist said many laws today are devised to regulate ethical decisions once thought to be unenforceable. But ethical behavior eroded, so the law stepped in. If the jewelry industry can demonstrate it will "do the right thing" within its associations and by individual actions, there will be no need to create additional laws to regulate new gem disclosures, he said.

Kidder, who is the founder and president of the Institute for Global Ethics, advised the jewelry industry to look at the basic human values that guide ethical behavior. Honoring these values will naturally lead to the kind of disclosure that will benefit buyers as well as the general reputation of jewelers. These basic values include:

  • Honesty: Disclose because it's the truth.
  • Respect: Respect your customers and their need to know the facts about what they buy.
  • Responsibility: Stand behind what you sell.
  • Compassion and Fairness: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Kidder spoke compellingly about the need for ethics in business today – from pragmatic and moral viewpoints. On the pragmatic side, he reminded symposium attendees that today it's either "disclose or be disclosed." And if the credibility of the jewelry industry disappears, there are a lot of other luxury products to buy.

He also pointed out that with the explosive growth in new technology, science is getting ahead of the law anyway. "As soon as we figure one thing out, another will come along." Rather than try to regulate everything, it pays to just apply ethical principles.

Morally, encouraging ethical behavior elevates the human race – or can lead to its destruction. He cited the nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Russia, where unauthorized fiddling with the reactor by experimenting engineers led to the disaster. "It's emblematic of the capacity of new technology to make one wrong decision cause a disaster," he said.

– by Peggy Jo Donahu

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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