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What does the JAA stand for?

The recent dispute between Pandora and Alex and Ani has again brought into question the relevance of the JAA. COLEBY NICHOLSON says the ‘peak industry body’ needs to rethink its purpose.

What does the JAA stand for? I wonder if you know because I no longer have any idea.

The recent Pandora-Alex and Ani dispute demonstrated to me that the JAA has continued to lose its way and is close to becoming irrelevant. By remaining silent over the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) investigation into Pandora’s anti-competitive behaviour, the JAA seems to stand for nothing. Well, at least nothing important.

I’ll come back to that issue but let’s first attempt to understand the current state of the JAA and what its function is supposed to be.

JAA membership has been declining for several years and current numbers may well be at an all-time low. I can’t recall a period when more retailers and suppliers have abandoned the association by not renewing membership. The JAA refers to such retailers and suppliers as having ‘resigned’.

Not only is the number of resignations quite significant this year but the names of the businesses resigning also tell a sad tale. I know of many people who have resigned after supporting the JAA for decades because they believe that there is no longer any financial benefit, that the JAA’s reason for existing is no longer relevant, and/or because they are tired of petty politics.

The JAA seems to believe the only reason people are abandoning the association is because of the state of the economy and while that is partly true, it’s not the sole reason. In fact, I think this makes up only one small part of the overall decision to not pay membership fees that help fund an industry association.

For example, it hasn’t helped that over the last few years the JAA has damaged its own reputation and in some cases divided the industry. Who could forget foolhardy episodes like the JAA promoting international diamond trading company RapNet? The association effectively advised local retailers to buy from an overseas internet platform rather than support its own members and Aussie diamond dealers.

Yes, this occurred several years ago and yes, the JAA eventually apologised for its thoughtless actions, but it left many people scratching their heads. In more recent times, I have had complaints about a wide range of issues ranging from lack of member benefits through to the cancellation of the 2016 JAA Australasian Jewellery Awards.

While the JAA blamed a lack of industry sponsorship funding for the ‘postponement’ of this year’s biennial design competition, it’s well known that the 2014 awards program was fraught with problems.

Indeed, not only did one sponsor tell me on the night that he would never support the awards again but jewellers who attended, including some entrants, commented that the night was such a shambles they would never go again.

The disappointment about the event continued for weeks so it came as no surprise to me that this year’s awards were cancelled because of a lack of industry support. Nevertheless, the news did come as a surprise to many, with one very disappointed jeweller asking me, “How could the JAA announce the awards in January and then cancel them in February?”

It’s a fair question, as is the question of whether it’s time to review the purpose of the awards … but back to what the JAA stands for.

Stand up and be counted

If there was ever a reason or cause for the JAA to stand up and be counted by the Australian jewellery industry it was during the Pandora-Alex and Ani fight when Pandora threw its considerable weight around to stop jewellers stocking a competitor’s product.

One of the reasons – if not the main reason – for the existence of the JAA is to represent and support independent jewellery stores. The big chains don’t need the JAA and yes, there are also supplier members, but without buyers there can be no sellers and without a vibrant retail sector the need for an industry association falls by the wayside.

Jeweller reported earlier this year that a number of jewellery retailers had lodged formal complaints with the ACCC about Pandora’s anti-competitive behaviour. That is, many small jewellers, including JAA members, complained that Pandora’s actions were unfairly affecting their businesses by disallowing them to stock the newly launched Alex and Ani jewellery range.

Putting aside the complex legal issues surrounding Pandora’s stance, it should be noted that the JAA remained silent prior to and throughout the ACCC’s investigation. It should also be noted that something can be considered anti-competitive but not illegal, and so it was that the ACCC eventually concluded that Pandora’s action did not breach Australian Consumer Law and Pandora’s demands on retailers had not substantially lessened competition.

The ACCC decision meant that Pandora could continue to take action against its competitors, and small jewellers would have to choose between the two products. So what did the JAA do after the ACCC announced its decision?

Nothing! Not a word.

Let me reiterate: this was an industry dispute affecting hundreds of jewellery stores – many of which are JAA members – and the JAA made no comment about the matter prior to, during or even after the ACCC’s findings.

I have covered the Australian and New Zealand jewellery industries for more than a decade and I can’t recall a more important industry-wide issue and yet the JAA had nothing to say. Further to this, the matter is not short term; the negative impact on jewellers is ongoing.

No comment

Why the silence? Well, the JAA’s view is that after various complaints were lodged, nothing it said or did would change the outcome of the consumer watchdog’s investigation and the matter would be reviewed on the basis of law and not the number of complainants.

That might be true – but it misses the point.

The JAA may well have been “disappointed” at the ACCC’s findings and may also be disappointed at Pandora’s actions against its retail members as well as Alex and Ani – another member – but it made no comment to that effect.

As an association that purports to represent its members, why would the JAA not make a statement about the Pandora-Alex and Ani issue given its negative impact on many retailers? The JAA could have come out and informed the industry that it did not support Pandora’s actions to reduce competition and consumer choice, even if those actions were ultimately deemed legal.

It’s a simple matter – either Pandora’s actions were positive for the wider jewellery industry or they weren’t. Consumers should either have the widest choice of jewellery product available to them or they shouldn’t.

What did our so-called ‘peak industry body’ think about this dispute? Who knows!

What’s more, after the ACCC investigation the JAA could have issued a statement along the lines of: “While the JAA recognises that Pandora has not broken the law, we hope that the company will review and cease its policy to restrict choice by retailers and ultimately consumers for the good of the wider industry.”

Pandora would have surely ignored such a statement – it resigned from the JAA this year – but no harm in making your views known, right? It’s like the episode never happened.

A stance from the JAA might not have affected the outcome of the problem in any way; however, the JAA would have been seen as acting for its members. It chose not to do so and was conspicuous in its absence.

Failing to represent

So I come back to my original question: What does the JAA stand for?

According to its website, the JAA’s mission is to be “the peak industry body that represents greater than 75 per cent of industry participants”.

Fail... remaining silent is not representing anything or anyone! Furthermore, with a year-on-year decline in membership – and nothing in sight to reverse that trend – the chance of representing more than 75 per cent of the industry looks almost impossible.

When given the perfect opportunity to stand up and be counted, the JAA went into hiding, so is it any wonder that more and more members are abandoning the association?

The matter gets worse. I note the second item on the JAA’s mission is to be “the first point-of-contact for thought leadership”.

Apart from the fact that the use of weasel words (managerial drivel) such as ‘thought leadership’ has increasingly crept into JAA vernacular, I ask: If the JAA wants to be seen as a thought leader (whatever that is!) why did it not lead and tell us what it thought?

Think about it – it was the JAA that listed its two most important aims as wanting to represent more than 75 per of the industry and as being recognised as ‘thought leaders’, yet when offered a prime opportunity to be seen as fulfilling both of its own aims, it remained silent.

I’m reminded of the legal saying, “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.” The JAA was seen to be doing nothing.

Another of the JAA’s aims is to be “recognised and respected as an organisation for excellence and trusted leadership of the jewellery industry”.

Readers will conclude for themselves whether the JAA’s silence demonstrates leadership of any kind and whether its silence is to be respected. Jewellers will also continue to vote with their membership wallets as to whether the JAA represents anyone or anything.

Not one known for staying silent, I’d like to leave you with my thoughts: on current trends, it would seem that each year, more people lose respect for the JAA compared with those who see it as a body that offers benefits or takes principled stands, and that’s a shame.

Before it takes umbrage at this view and before it jumps in to shoot the messenger, as it’s often prone to do, if the JAA requires further proof that the large membership drop-off has little to do with the economic climate it need only turn to its own website.

A page headed ‘Loyal long-term members’ displays businesses that have held membership for 10 or more consecutive years; however, the list is not current.

Sadly, the page includes a long list of well-known names – some with 20 to 30-year memberships – who have since abandoned the JAA by ‘resigning’. That has little to do with the economy, which leads us to wonder whether it speaks volumes for the JAA’s relevancy.

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Editor’s Note: Although Jeweller is the official publication of the Jewellers Association of Australia (JAA), the magazine is published independently of the JAA and all views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the JAA.

More reading
ACCC drops Pandora, Alex and Ani investigation
JAA cancels jewellery design awards
Jewellery assocation creates own furore
More changes needed at jeweller’s association
Time for a change at Jewellers Association










ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Coleby Nicholson • Managing Editor

Managing Editor • Jeweller Magazine


Coleby Nicholson is publisher and managing editor of Jeweller magazine. He has covered the jewellery industry for more than a decade and specialises in business-to-business aspects of the industry.






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Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 02:42am
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