HRW said Rolex received no ranking due to its lack of disclosure © PA Images
HRW said Rolex received no ranking due to its lack of disclosure © PA Images

Jewellery brands failing on ethical supply chains

13 February 2018

Some of the world’s top jewellers are still failing to ensure their gold and diamonds are mined ethically, despite efforts to clean up the industry's supply chains, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In its report, The Hidden Cost of Jewellery: Human Rights in Supply Chains and the Responsibility of Jewellery Companies, HRW analysed the sourcing of gold and diamonds in 13 leading jewellery houses, including Boodles, Rolex, Cartier, Chopard, Harry Winston, Pandora, Bulgari and Tiffany & Co.

The report said the practices of the 13 jewellers, which together make up around 10% of global jewellery sales, differed significantly and while some companies had taken steps to address human rights risks in the gold and diamond supply chain, others had just relied on the assurances of suppliers.

Juliane Kippenberg, associate child rights director at HRW, said the report showed that most companies did not have full traceability of gold and diamonds and had not sufficiently assessed human rights risks.

“Many jewellers can do more to find out if their gold or diamonds are tainted by child labour or other human rights abuses,” she said.

“An increasing number of customers want to be sure the jewellery they buy has not fuelled human rights abuses and jewellery companies owe it to their customers and the communities affected by their business to source truly responsibly and allow public scrutiny of their actions.”

HRW ranked the 13 major jewellery brands in terms of responsible sourcing and no brand received a top score of “excellent”.

It said only Tiffany & Co was able to trace all of its newly-mined gold back to one mine in Utah and conducted regular human rights assessments of the mine, earning it a score of “strong”. 

Bulgari, Cartier, Pandora ranked a level below at “moderate” for “taking some important steps towards responsible sourcing”. 

UK retailer Boodles and Swiss jeweller Chopard were ranked “weak” for taking few steps towards responsible sourcing and Indian jeweller Tanishq scored worst with “very weak”, due to a lack of any evidence of steps towards responsible sourcing.

It said Rolex received no ranking due to its lack of disclosure.

Responding to the report, Pandora told HRW that responsible business practices have always been an integral part of the company and all its gold has been sourced from “reputable refining companies”, according to the Responsible Jewellery Council Code of Practices. 

Chopard told HRW that it has worked with small-scale mining co-operatives in Latin America to improve working conditions, while Boodles said it had started meeting with its diamond suppliers to discuss human rights due diligence and it has initiated its first responsible sourcing audit. 

It added that Rolex, Tanishq, LVMH – the owner of Bulgari – and Cartier would not respond to a request for comment on the report.

The report’s release comes after a report in December showed that out of eight major jewellery retailers in the UK, four had failed to publish a modern slavery statement on their homepage and only three fully met the disclosure requirements of the Modern Slavery Act

Around 40m people work in small-scale mines or mine diamonds and gold by hand, including 1m children, according to HRW. Such mining accounts for 15-20% of the world’s gold and 20% of gem-quality diamonds.

Incidences of human rights abuses in diamond mining has also led to calls for a revamp of the global Kimberley Process – a government-led certification scheme initiated in 2003 to clean up the diamond trade following evidence that diamonds were being used to fund a series of civil wars in Africa in the 1990s. 

The scheme has succeeded in limiting the flow of diamonds linked to conflict, so called blood diamonds.

However, HRW said NGOs and some jewellers believe the 81-country process uses a definition of a blood diamond that is too narrow and does not include situations where workers may be forced to mine diamonds by a sovereign state or military.

“The Kimberly Process is focused narrowly on diamonds linked to rebel forces, applies only to rough diamonds and places no direct responsibility on companies,” it said.

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