Report: UK jewellers 'must do more' to combat potential human rights abuses

The billion-pound jewellery industry is still "tainted" by hidden cases of human rights abuses and modern slavery, with a new report urging large UK brands to increase reporting responsibilities to ensure supply chains are fully-mapped and audited.

The report also goes to lengths to highlight the positive work being done to tackle human rights issues in the supply chains of the brands

The report also goes to lengths to highlight the positive work being done to tackle human rights issues in the supply chains of the brands

The All that glitters is not gold report from Adrea International found that just 37% of modern slavery statements issued by eight of the top UK jewellery brands were compliant with reporting requirements.

The report examined the practices of Tiffany & Co, Goldsmiths, Links, F. Hinds, Beaverbrooks, Boodles, Cartier and the Signet Group and companies under its control. It noted that most companies are relying on the work of overarching, voluntary councils when it comes to human rights, with only a few companies pushing actions beyond the practices of industry bodies.

“The jewellery industry relies on its luxury branding and messages to encourage consumers to buy their products, but their supply chains have historically been tainted with significant human rights abuses. Some retailers are recognising this and are beginning to try and tackle the issues” Ardea International’s founder Colleen Theron said.

“The likelihood is that many businesses in this sector will have either knowingly or unknowingly supported practices linked with these abuses at some point in their supply chain. We recognise that modern slavery is a complex issue, but while some businesses are committed to ensure the integrity of their supply chains, many other successful businesses in this lucrative industry must do more to guarantee that their profits are not made at the cost of vulnerable children and individuals.”

The International Labour Organisation estimates that 152 million children are subjected to child labour across the globe, with 12% of that figure working in mines – an aspect directly linked to the jewellery sector.

The sector has suffered from previous ethical discrepancies, following the emergence of “blood diamonds” and the role they had in fuelling conflicts in Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe. As well as environmental damage, mining is also known to impact human rights. In Tanzania, Africa’s fourth largest gold producer, mercury and cyanide poisoning occurred amongst many of the miners.

The UK has stringent requirements in place to combat modern slavery and human rights. The UK Modern Slavery Act requires all companies with a turnover of £36m or more to produce and publish annual statements on slavery and human trafficking.

Conflicting contributions

The report notes that half of the examined jewellers had failed to publish a Modern Slavery Statement on their website homepage, and only three companies fully meet disclosure requirements, Tiffany, F. Hinds and the Signet Group.

However, the Signet Group owns many subsidiary companies such as Pagoda, Zales and H. Samuel. Most of these brands link to the Signet Group’s statement, but fail to develop unique declarations, according to the report.

The report argues that for businesses to properly identify and reduce the risk of modern slavery across complex supply chains, more should be done to ensure they are mapped and audited.

Responding to the report, a Signet Group spokesperson told edie: “Signet Jewelers has detailed information on its adherence to international guidance, standards and legislation relating to Human Rights and Modern Slavery, including the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010 and the UK Modern Slavery Act.

“Signet also requires its suppliers to be members of the Responsible Jewellery Council (“RJC”).  Compliance with the SRSPs and membership of the RJC (covering over 95% of Signet’s supplies) also ensure that Signet’s suppliers adhere to the highest level of international standards relating to human rights and modern slavery. These policies apply throughout Signet Jewelers, including all of Signet’s retail operations in the USA, Canada and the UK.”

The Signet Group, which has a £6bn turnover, requires all suppliers to comply with the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols (SRSP), and most major suppliers are members of the RJC. The Council was formed in 2005, and six of the examined jewellers are certified members. The RJC is currently reviewing its Code of Practices relating to human rights.

Not only did the report state Signet Group suppliers that aren’t RJC members were not obliged to go through third-party auditing, but it also noted that the Signet Group statement “lacks in depth information on how it is addressing modern slavery risk in their supply chains”.

The report calls on the companies to address modern slavery “in detail” in their statements and should also do more to highlight the positive work that companies are doing in this area.

Follow-up compliance

Since Ardea International released the report to the jewellers for comment, Beaverbrooks and Links have updated their websites with the statements. Theron noted that “this would appear to indicate that compliance with the Act is seen as important from a reputational perspective”.

A spokesperson for Beaverbrooks added: “Beaverbrooks, which has been a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council since 2009, is fully compliant with the requirements of the Modern Slavery Act and its statement is published on beaverbrooks.co.uk. It has followed Home Office guidance ‘Transparency in Supply Chains, a practical guide,’ which states that Modern Slavery Act statements may be published at the same time as annual statutory accounts (Beaverbrooks’ accounts were published at Companies House 13 November 2017).

“Beaverbrooks is committed to the principles of the Modern Slavery Act and over the past 18 months has ensured that as many departments as possible were involved in the information gathering exercises to create a substantial statement that can be built on each year. It is also in the process of arranging Modern Slavery Act training for all its 940 employees. Beaverbrooks is confident that its statement is a comprehensive response to the challenge of the Act and provides an excellent springboard for future actions.”

The report also goes to lengths to highlight the positive work being done to tackle human rights issues in the supply chains of the brands. It demonstrates that Tiffany has fully-mapped its supply chain, so that 100% of diamonds are traceable to mine or supply. Almost three-quarters of gold sourced is also from a known mine.

Through a Tiffany & Co Foundation to support an estimated 25 million artisanal miners, more than $1 million has been awarded to the Diamond Development Initiative organisation.

Matt Mace


Tags

mining | Modern Slavery | Retail | supply chain | ethics

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CSR & ethics
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