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Editor's Desk

Veritas odit moras – truth hates delay

‘Corporate transparency’ – world-changing initiative or another buzzword being bandied around? ANGELA HAN digs a little deeper into what these words really mean.

In theory, ‘corporate transparency’ is about the degree to which an organisation’s decision-making, operations and actions are observable by external parties, which – most importantly – includes the general public.

In light of this, it’s no secret that the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), an organisation dedicated entirely to advocating corporate transparency, has faced a tidal wave of scrutiny in recent weeks.

The uproar emanated from the RJC’s perceived lack of action on Alrosa, one of its high-profile members and which is 33 per cent owned by the Russian government. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, and on 3 March the RJC announced that the Alrosa representative had voluntarily resigned as vice-chair of the board.

However, many members and the wider jewellery industry thought more action was required. Some viewed it as inappropriate for Alrosa to remain an RJC member.

“If the RJC staff and board refuse to publicly communicate on simple and fundamental matters, it’s only fair to ask: Is the Responsible Jewellery Council really responsible?”

While there may have been steps taken in private, prolonged silence on the issue was likened to inaction and more criticism followed, with the organisation labelled as hypocritical after repeatedly preaching to the wider industry on the value of transparency.

If the RJC staff and board refuse to publicly communicate on simple and fundamental matters, it’s only fair to ask: Is the Responsible Jewellery Council really responsible?

Today, the RJC finds itself searching for a new executive director.

If a prospective leader thinks that the Alrosa membership is the biggest problem to resolve upon their appointment, then they need to get out their finest-toothed comb for a closer look at the organisation.

The RJC’s lack of transparency over the handling of Alrosa was just the tip of the iceberg. Unless the organisation changes its communication and governance, it’ll only bury itself further into its hole of hypocrisy.

Third-party playing the field

London-based Gemfields Group claims to be “a world-leading supplier of responsibly sourced African emeralds, rubies and sapphires”, and enjoyed growth in revenue in 2021 to the tune of US$258 million.

The words ‘responsibly sourced’ feature throughout its website, and are highlighted and promoted in the company’s annual reports and other media.

It must be noted that Gemfields is not a member of the Responsible Jewellery Council. There is, of course, no obligation for it to be so!

Rewind to 2013 – Gemfields acquired Fabergé, an iconic brand best known for its gemstone-encrusted eggs. Fabergé joined the RJC in April 2018 and is currently certified until February 2024.

Its website states: “2013 - Gemfields, a world-leading supplier of responsibly sourced coloured gemstones, acquires Fabergé with the aim to create a globally recognised coloured gemstone champion, building on Fabergé’s status as a global brand with an exceptional heritage”.

The term ‘responsibly-sourced’ forms a pivotal part of the company’s marketing. It’s important to reiterate that the Gemfields Group isn't an RJC member.

For the RJC, this should raise some big questions. Perhaps most importantly: Is it appropriate for one RJC member company – which has been successful in gaining responsible sourcing Certification – to promote another (non-member) company’s claims of responsible sourcing?

Clearly not so transparent

Mozambique’s Montepuez ruby mine has been the subject of international controversy for many years.

Under the heading on Fabergé’s website, ‘Gemfields gemstones are mined with transparency, legitimacy and integrity’ the page explains that the Gemfields’ mining operation at “Montepuez mine in Mozambique covers 33,600 hectares and is one of the most significant ruby deposits in the world”.

There have been news reports with allegations of torture, beatings and the murder of local villagers and miners working within the vicinity of the Montepuez operation as recent as 2020.

Rather than apply to join the RJC, in April 2020, and only two months after the February report on violence flaring at its Montepuez mine, Gemfields joined the Voluntary Principles Initiative (VPI), a global body that claims to be "dedicated to sharing best practices”, alongside other members such as ExxonMobil, Anglo American and Shell.

It is unclear how many company members the VPI had in 2020, however, at the time of publication its website lists only 33, compared to the RJC’s stable of more than 1,450 members.

In 2018, Reuters reported that Fabergé owner, Gemfields was taken to court by a UK legal firm, Leigh Day, over alleged human rights abuses in Mozambique.

In an out-of-court settlement, Gemfields paid out £5.8 million ($US7.8 million).

This has led industry commentators to question: how can a company that has been involved in a highly controversial mining project, and which has agreed to pay $US7.8 million in compensation to the local people, can claim to offer 'responsibly-sourced' gemstones?

Maybe it’s all smoke and mirrors

Is it appropriate for Fabergé to campaign under the banner of ‘responsible’ when its parent company Gemfields, has been embroiled in this kind of controversy, in recent years?

It could be argued that Gemfields is attempting to benefit from the imprimatur and/or warrant of the RJC Certification held by its subsidiary, Fabergé.

How is it acceptable for one company to trade-off, and benefit from, another company’s certification for responsibly sourced gemstones? And if the RJC is not aware of the actions and activities of its member, Fabergé, then one must ask – why?

At the time of publication, the RJC has not acknowledged Jeweller’s emails.

Perhaps the biggest question of all is why is the RJC so unapproachable when it comes to the search for clarification on these issues?

Is this an example of the corporate transparency the wider jewellery industry is supposed to emulate? 

No public statements have been made since 1 April. The RJC’s silence is deafening.

Silence, as we often find, is the voice of complicity.

Angela Han

Publisher  • Jeweller Magazine

Angela Han has more than a decade’s experience in the jewellery and luxury goods industry, having worked in all sectors from retail and manufacturing to design and supply. She has been with Jeweller for over ten years and has extensive experience in print and digital media publishing, business-to-business communications and strategy. 

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