Professional Jeweler Archive: Corporate Responsibility Counts, Especially to Gen Y

February 2005


Corporate Responsibility Counts, Especially to Gen Y

An overwhelming 90% of Americans would consider switching products or services if they felt the provider behaved illegally or unethically, according to the 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study. The study, commissioned by Cone, a Boston-based strategy and communications agency, also found 81% would speak against the company among family and friends, and 73% would boycott the company’s products or services.

This is significant as the jewelry industry grapples with corporate responsibility concerning environmental, health, social and ethical issues such as conflict diamonds and mining and labor practices. Though some jewelers think these issues are removed from their day-to-day operations, marketers say they could make or break your relationships with customers.

These issues will become more of a sticking point with Gen Y, the generation now starting to buy bridal jewelry. These Americans – ages 11-26 – are significantly more likely than previous generations to consider a company’s citizenship practices when making buying decisions, the study shows.

In November, Matthew Runci, president and CEO of Jewelers of America, introduced the Early Adopters Initiative, JA’s international corporate responsibility group. Members will explore the feasibility of promoting responsible business practices throughout the supply chain. JA released its own Supplier Code of Conduct last year and is spearheading the effort to protect retailers who have “face-to-face accountability to consumers,” he says.
Tiffany & Co., Cartier, Signet (parent of Sterling Jewelers) and Zale Corp. have signed on to EAI, as have miners De Beers’ Diamond Trading Co., Rio Tinto and BHP. Most of these companies already have best-practices and corporate responsibility codes. EAI says “a coordinated approach will provide increased clarity to all our business partners about what standards are expected within the diamond and gold jewelry sectors [as well as] reduce duplication of efforts.”

JA also is designing an internal monitoring service for retailer members as a benefit they can tout to consumers. The service, still in the planning stages, might include a self-assessment tool, mystery shoppers, training for sales associates and store management, and reviews of store procedures and policies. It’s expected to launch some time this year.

Will the jewelry industry gain benefits, beyond not losing customers, from corporate social responsibility efforts? Yes, according to the Cone study. Its data show consumers will reward companies that play active roles in meeting society’s needs. Eight-five percent say they assess a company’s commitment to social issues; 74% say they use such information in deciding whether to recommend a company to others.

The study also shows companies need to do better in publicizing corporate social responsibility efforts. Eighty-six percent of respondents want companies to talk about their efforts, but only 40% say companies do this well. “For senior executives, [these facts] are a mandate for action on social issues,” says Carol Cone, CEO of Cone.

Taking action to spell out your stands on social, environmental and other issues is your best hope of attracting and keeping the customers of the future.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications