Following Best Practices
It was a sad but crucial chain of events for the Indian diamond industry. On the same August day newspapers reported a gas-cylinder explosion at a diamond cutting and polishing factory in the city of Surat, diamond miner Rio Tintos Indian office held a press conference in Mumbai to announce its new best practices certification program for the diamond and jewelry industry in India.
The Surat explosion killed more than 30 people and toppled several buildings next to the factory. The explosion was linked to an acid boiler, heated by gas cylinders, used to remove surface impurities from diamonds, according to Agency France Presse. When combined with the gas cylinders, the boilers may be dangerous and are being examined for safety.
Rio Tinto Diamonds is the rough diamond sales and marketing division of the group that owns Argyle diamonds in Australia and is a majority owner of the Diavik mine in Canada. Its Business Excellence Model asks clients to implement a set of management tools to help them improve quality, environment, health and safety and social responsibility. At the press conference, Nirupa Bhatt, RTDs Indian manager, said large retail chains such as Wal-Mart and Tiffany & Co. now require some form of assurance from vendors that good corporate governance and ethical practices are followed, says the Rapaport Report.
Rio Tinto isnt the only diamond company addressing these issues. De Beers Diamond Trading Co. requires its Supplier of Choice clients to adhere to a set of best practices principles, and De Beers Canada Mining Inc. recently completed a government-mandated environmental assessment of its planned mine at Snap Lake in the Northwest Territories.
India isnt the only place with accidents and health risks. The New York Times detailed the suffering of workers at jewelry factories in Chinas Guangdong province, who are developing the lung-destroying disease silicosis from cutting and sanding gemstones in inadequately ventilated work areas.
You would do well to follow the example of the retail giants. Ask your suppliers for assurances they are following best-practice principles, and make sure they get such assurances from their upstream businesses. Its ethically right, plus more consumers are forming opinions about core jewelry merchandise you may need to counter. The Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council, a sampling of jewelry consumers conducted regularly by MVI Marketing Ltd., says 26% of consumers are aware of the term conflict diamonds, a jump from 16% in December of 2002. Its safe to say many consumers dont understand that conflict diamonds represent a tiny percentage of all diamonds sold, nor do they know about the Kimberley Process and its efforts to stop rogue diamonds from entering the legitimate diamond trading network.
Jewelers of America is working to get a written pledge from each of its members saying they will secure the Kimberley warranties from their diamond and jewelry suppliers. These warranties state their diamonds are bought from legitimate sources not involved in funding conflict. Along with these assurances, you might also ask your suppliers whether they check to see that general health, safety, environmental and other concerns are addressed also. Retailers need to make an issue of these factors before consumers do.
by Peggy Jo Donahue