February 19, 2004
JA Adopts Supplier Code of Conduct
Jewelers of America formally adopted a Supplier Code of Conduct in January. The new document supports JA's commitment to developing a framework for social, ethical and environmental responsibility. It addresses growing 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 all the way back up the supply chain, 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. "Thus, going forward, trade relationships between retailer jewelers and their vendors will require a more explicit and sure foundation for trust than perhaps traditional industry practices have required in many cases."
In recent years, many industries have been called to task for labor and environmental abuses which often take place overseas. The new code of conduct is one way U.S. jewelers can pressure all their suppliers to develop labor and environmental safeguards, wherever the jewelry is made or basic materials sourced. The labor issues addressed include specific health and safety rules concerning such things as the use of hazardous substances to protecting workers' eyesight, lungs and skin. The code of conduct also requires workers have access to clean bathrooms and education about HIV/AIDS risks. Wages, working hours, discrimination, harassment, forced labor, child labor and collective bargaining rights are also addressed in detail. Environmental responsibility is required of JA suppliers, along with ethical practices regarding gemstone treatment disclosure, metal fineness requirements, and other issues. Finally, suppliers are required by JA to not deal in conflict diamonds and to comply by the rules of the Kimberley Process Certification scheme.
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 could do to manage these risks on behalf of its members. "JA's leadership role in this regard is both 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, as well as with human rights groups that advocate for change in social and environmental conditions around the world. Understanding the issues from perspectives in and outside of the industry helped JA devise practical strategies for intervening in these issues with suppliers.
JA has communicated with its members throughout the process and will soon issue specific recommendations to them on their role in implementing the new supplier code. JA continues to discuss the code with trade groups representing key suppliers, as well as with individual suppliers. The code itself says it recognizes suppliers will need time to address labor and environmental issues to bring themselves into compliance with the new code.
JA posted the Supplier Code of Conduct in the consumer section of its Web site, where you can also find documents concerning JA's social, ethical and environmental rules and initiatives.
by Peggy Jo Donahue