JA Adopts Supplier Code of Conduct
Bravo to Jewelers of America for formally adopting a Supplier Code of Conduct in January in support of its commitment to social, ethical and environmental responsibility at all levels of the industry. The code addresses consumer concerns over issues such as child labor, health and safety workplace issues and the environmental impact of mining for metals and gems used in jewelry.
Individual retailers and the brands they feature are now held publicly accountable for the practices of suppliers, including conditions surrounding the fabrication of products and the extraction of gemstones and precious metals from the earth, says Matthew A. Runci, president/CEO of JA. Going forward, trade relationships between retail jewelers and their vendors will require a more explicit and sure foundation for trust than perhaps traditional industry practices have required in many cases.
JA action on this front should be welcome news to retail jewelers who worry about such issues and/or are questioned by media and consumers about them. As I have mentioned before in this column, its up to retailers to question suppliers about trade practices that may occur far away from their stores. Once all retailers refuse to buy jewelry or gems without best-practices guarantees, all suppliers will have to pay attention. Large retailers already ask these questions. At the other end of the supply chain, so do proactive diamond miners such as De Beers and Rio Tinto. Both companies now have best-practices policies they require their clients to adhere to if they wish to continue receiving diamonds.
The JA Code of Conduct addresses labor issues such as health and safety rules ranging from the use of hazardous substances to protecting workers eyesight, lungs and skin. Workers must have access to clean bathrooms and education about HIV/AIDS risks. Wages, hours, discrimination, harassment, forced labor, child labor and collective bargaining rights are addressed in detail. Environmental responsibility is required of suppliers, along with attention to ethical issues such as gemstone treatment disclosure and metal fineness adherence. Suppliers also are required to comply by the rules of the Kimberley Process Certification program.
Working through a committee of member jewelers chaired by Terry Burman, CEO of Signet, parent company of Sterling Jewelers, JA retained the services of PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2001 to evaluate the issues confronting the world of jewelry and gemstones; the social, ethical and environmental risks associated with these issues; and what JA can do to manage these risks on behalf of members. JAs leadership in this regard is appropriate and necessary if we are to make progress in this area, says Burman.
Through the ensuing two years, JA held discussions with key stakeholders in the industry and with human rights groups that advocate for change in social and environmental conditions around the world. JA also communicated with its members throughout the process and soon will issue specific recommendations on their role in implementing the code. The association continues to discuss the code with trade groups representing key suppliers and with individual suppliers. The code itself says it recognizes suppliers will need time to address labor and environmental issues to bring themselves into compliance.
JA posted the Supplier Code of Conduct in the consumer section of its Web site, www.jewelers.org, where you also can find other documents concerning JA initiatives. Read them so you are up-to-date on what responsible jewelers are doing to make the world a better, safer place.
Peggy Jo Donahue