Editorial Comment by Marc Choyt
Join the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) or lose your business. That’s the choice for some companies wishing to do business with two of the large diamond mining companies who are prominent members of the RJC.
For many jewelers who look toward the RJC as the organization to create ethical standards, it is shocking to learn that the organization is also creating a cartel.
Of course, the cartel is not explicitly a part of the Responsible Jewelry Council’s policy. Legally, any individual member of the RJC can set its own terms for sale.
Nevertheless, we have no way of knowing how many companies joined RJC not because they believed in the mission of the organization; but did it merely because they had to.
This is not new news. For the past several months, we have been hearing that BHP Billiton are requiring their customers to join the RJC. I have heard directly from other sources that Rio Tinto is also implementing this policy. Other prominent RJC companies could also be making RJC membership mandatory—we have no way of knowing.
We have asked companies experiencing this form of business extortion to come forward and raise this issue publicly. None have been willing to do this. This issue was only discussed privately, until this press release last month from the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB).
Mr. Avi Paz (President of the WFDB) writes, “At one point during the discussions, Martin Leake noted that any company wishing to be eligible to buy rough diamonds from BHP Billiton must be a member of the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) and consequently must go through an auditing process by a third party to become certified by the RJC. This information was not news in and of itself…”
“In an industry in which a handful of companies produces the overwhelming bulk of rough material, does not a requirement that one has to be member of specific organization, like RJC, constitute an unreasonable barrier to fair trade? I fear it does…”
Although Mr. Paz’ comment shows that he lacks an understanding of the principles of fair trade, the point he makes is justifiable in the context to free trade.
Let’s look at the facts. What is RJC really accomplishing besides creating a hidden cartel?
The RJC chain of custody will not significantly improve the difficult ethical sourcing in the jewelry sector. Large scale mining companies represented in the RJC, such as the ones mentioned above, already have a chain of custody, so the standards add nothing. The RJC will not protect blood diamonds from entering supply chain because the RJC endorses the Kimberley Process, which accepts diamonds from Zimbabwe as conflict free. Jewelers who are members are not going to be required to implement traceability and transparency in precious metals, except in the case of conflict minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Central East Africa.
The RJC also does nothing significant to support the small scale mining sector, which provides 95% of employment in the supply of raw materials to make all jewelry. For the rich and powerful to enrich themselves whilst the majority in the diamond world dig for a deflating dollar a day is an injustice. Diamonds and precious metal should enrich the majority, not the minority. For Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton to insist to even one company that they must be members of RJC to buy their diamonds represents a backward step for everyone who wants the wealth from the jewelry sector to be beneficial for all.
Many in the mainstream sector look toward them for protecting the integrity of the sector. At present, the RJC uses their membership numbers to back their claims of legitimacy. The cartel building undermines the credibility of their platform and mission. The RJC management would do well to publicly prohibit members from the creation of a RJC cartel. They should also issue an apology to the jewelry sector on behalf of their members who put business interests above ethical considerations.
However, do not hold your breath to see this level of integrity. In this case, the foxes are guarding the hen house.
Marc Choyt is founding Director of Fair Jewelry Action, USA. His company, Reflective Images, creates designer jewelry made with recycled gold, silver and fair trade gemstones; and handmade, unique conflict free, eco-friendly wedding rings at www.artisanweddingrings.com and www.celticjewelry.com.
FJA is a forum open to a diversity of opinions in support of its mission. Any editorial expressed in this article represents the opinion of the authors, and not necessarily the views of Fair Jewelry Action members.