Earlier this month, Business of Fashion held a professional summit, entitled How to build a responsible fashion business. The four hour-summit covered a wealth of topics that discussed the fashion business’ values, labor rights, discrimination, and racial inequality, and sustainability. It was an inspiring afternoon!
Of course, nothing that happens in the fashion industry stays in the fashion industry. These topics, with variations, also apply to the luxury industry, among them the diamond, gemstone, and jewelry trade, as often demonstrated by the content published on BoF.
Let’s take a look at the diamond industry in particular.
Business values and sustainability have been long on the agenda of the global diamond industry and trade. More recently, human and labor rights, and by extension, discrimination, also have come to the fore.
The conflict diamond trigger
Back in the year 2000, several NGOs called attention to the issue of the production of conflict diamonds in Africa, focusing on the human suffering the trade in these diamonds causes.
As a result, the diamond industry’s leading representative organizations – the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) – founded the World Diamond Council (WDC) which since had become the trade’s principal proponent of the struggle against conflict diamonds in the midstream section of the diamond supply pipeline. Soon afterward, the Kimberley Process Certification System (KPCS) was instituted, “uniting governments, civil society and the wider industry, the Kimberley Process (KP) defines conflict diamonds as: ‘rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments’ – around the world.”
The ongoing health crisis and the global wave of protests against racial inequality and discrimination are having an impact on the diamond supply pipeline, too.
While the large corporations – in Russia, Botswana, Namibia, Canada, among others – which operate huge, mechanized diamond mines, will probably survive, artisanal miners in southern African countries are the true victims of the health crisis. Artisanal miners digging and panning alluvial diamond deposits make just a few dollars a day and generally benefit little from the true value these diamonds generate in the diamond supply pipeline. The COVID-19 health crisis has hit them hardest.
Fortunately, (rough) conflict or blood diamonds currently constitute less than 0.04 percent of the global annual rough diamond production. But while armed, political conflicts involving are now few, artisanal miners continue to suffer, not only from low pay, but in various African countries, particularly in Zimbabwe, from violence, either from local interest groups or even from their own governments. Clearly, these are matters that need the industry’s urgent attention.
On the KP platform, governments, the diamond industry, and a string of dedicated NGOs are discussing the efforts to broaden the definition of conflict diamonds to include human rights violations. While, due to health crisis, they will only pick up their discussions again in 2021, it can be expected that the COVID-19 crisis, and the high profile of the current discussions about discrimination and racial inequality, will prove to be a watershed.
The foundations for that watershed are already being laid. Like in other industries, since mid-March, countless webinars have been held in the diamond, colored gemstone and jewelry industry. Here, too, topics such as marketing in the next normal, the prevention of exploitation of workers, inequality and the lack of fair pay, traceability, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, ethical trading, etc. are being discussed.
A few days after the BoF summit, during a webinar about the traceability of gemstones, Mark Hanna, the Chief Marketing Officer, Richline Group, Inc., a sizeable USA-based supplier of precious metals to the jewelry industry, remarked: “The Next Normal will substantially increase the consumers demand for health, humanity and eco issues.”
Another participant said: “The whole business world needs change, like many other areas in the world. People before profit needs a stronger focus, especially when the miners at the first link of the supply chain remain in poverty, and the sellers at the end reap the biggest rewards.
And another commented: As the mining communities receive fairer payment…they can and do invest in infrastructure. Over time, the customers get better transparency and traceability, whilst the miners develop their environment too. That’s the goal.”
Of course, these ideas and messages also need to reach the end-consumer and reverberate with them. Yet another commentator noted: “[When selling jewellery] storytelling works only if ethics, responsibility, and sustainability are [a real] value for the companies, and not just a good marketing tool.”
As demonstrated by this article from November 2019, the diamond trade still has a long way to go to address and solve a myriad of problems and injustices. The same is true for the fashion industry.
However, if there is to be a positive outcome to the COVID-19 health crisis and the high profile discussion on racial inequality and discrimination, it is that we have been awarded a unique opportunity to reset our industries’ agendas and, in the coming months and years, will act upon the insights that we have gained during these past months.