CSR, the basics

Sustainable Development …. An old-fashioned expression. Everybody talks about “sustainable development” without even knowing what it means anymore.

So I am sharing my office with nice, but ignorant colleagues about environmental questions, getting sustainable development mixed up with CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), ethics, organic farming, anti-consumerism, yoga, lithotherapy, vegetarianism…! We can therefore wonder about sustainable development. What is it? How does it apply to jewelry and colored gemstones? What are the limits of sustainable development? What can be done?

The expression achieved recognition at the third Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. It is defined as the combination of three pillars that are: economic growth, social fairness and environmental protection, also called the “3P’s” standing for “People”, “Planet” and “Profit”. Ten years later, in 2002, during the fourth Earth Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, the French President Mr. Jacques Chirac began his speech by saying this short but memorable sentence: “Our house is burning and we’re looking away”. In other words, it is now time to take the planet and its peoples into account.

From then on, Sustainable Development has been blossoming in all sectors: business, industry, schools, associations, governments… And the Jewelry business followed this trend.

In 2003 (6 years before the movie Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, came out), the Kimberley Process was established. It applies to diamonds and aims to reduce the flow of conflict rough diamonds used to finance wars. It is a guarantee that has to be mentioned on every invoice.

The Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) was founded in 2005 by 14 organizations of the industry and develops a standard for responsible acts. The companies involved are those working with gold, platinum or diamonds. They establish eco-friendly practices, commit to provide greater financial transparency and respect human rights. RJC has now more than 1000 members among which around 700 are certified.

In 2008, the CIBJO – the World Jewelry Confederation – launched its WJCEF Foundation to finance, spread and participate in the development of an education program on sustainable development in the whole jewelry industry.

No international meeting in the jewelry world is held without discussing this major theme nowadays. Some events got even specialized on this topic, such as the « 1,608 » Luxury and Sustainable Development Fair that is being held in Paris every year, or the FLUX – Fair Luxury – that also takes place once a year in the United-Kingdom.

Jewelry companies embrace their social responsibility through CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility -. The CSR plan is their answer to the challenge of sustainable development.

Lots of ethic jewelry brands saw the light of day in France, Europe, and in the United-States. They work, for instance, with Fairmined gold (which standard appeared in 2009), a fair trade gold that ensures traceability, eco-friendly and fair mining that is helping hand-crafted mining communities to develop.

There is no equivalent label for colored gemstones thus far.

The Fairmined gold business is primarily based on a premium which works as a purchase bonus that offers miners the opportunity to improve their working and living conditions. The current lack of reference price for colored gemstones could make it harder for such a label to exist.

Other complications are obstructing the development of a CSR plan, such as the number of middlemen in the field or the complex life cycle of a gemstone. As a matter of fact, a faceted gem passes through many hands: it can be mounted, unmounted, mounted again… It is in our stock but it might have been extracted hundreds of years ago. The traceability of colored gemstones and their precise origin are the first two challenges for the CSR.

One might be tempted to say that we should work directly with the mines, but a mine never products all the gems to meet a client’s demand. In this instance, the key is to have an accurate market knowledge as long as a strong and extensive international network that would help us to find the right gem among a very broad stock.

Despite the difficulties, many actions can be part of a CSR plan : sponsorship, including social and environmental criteria in our buying decisions, partnership with NGO or other local associations, development of a specific responsible sector…

As far as colored gemstones are concerned, environmental and social challenges are at their most critical ahead of the supply chain, when gems are mined and extracted; therefore the CSR commitments should focus on producing countries and their development. Mining of colored gemstones being mostly traditional, a fairer distribution of the raw material value for miners could be done,  contributing to their training, reducing the environmental impact caused by mining operations, to ensure miners empowerment*.

The jewelry industry is also influenced by Greenwashing: a marketing or communication process used by a company to create a better, more responsible and eco-friendly public image. It is our responsibility to remain attentive and critical.

The word « Responsibility » has to be emphasized in the CSR acronym. We are responsible to choose excellence, to work with materials that are noble, valuable and rare, to highlight what Nature has to offer, exploit its resources and preserve it, and to give back in return.

Small, gradual changes are necessary. The traceability of raw materials and their origins are a starting point. The latest European law is heading towards that direction. The fact that colored gemstones were integrated to the RJC’s activities is another powerful symbol. But before regulations or market trends compel businesses to support those changes, it would be better to embrace our own social responsibility in order to protect the “3Ps”.

“The brands that will thrive in the coming years are the ones that have a purpose beyond profit.” Richard Branson.


* granting more power to individuals or groups to act on the social, economic, political or ecological conditions they’re facing.

** http://www.oecd.org/corporate/mne/mining.htm