Almost every single item of fine jewellery that is produced today involves the combined efforts of hundreds and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people, located all over the world. Every individual or company who was in some way responsible for the manufacture of a piece of jewellery, from the miner to the refinery worker, to the diamond cutter and the jewellery designer, depends upon the work and the integrity of those came before them, as well as those who come after them in the supply chain.

If only one component in an item of jewellery is ethically challenged – let us say, for example, its gems were polished in a factory where the worker’s lungs were damaged as the result of poor ventilation – then the integrity of the entire product is threatened. In other words, if the consumer will not buy the jewellery because of the poor health and safety record of a gem cutting factory, then everybody else who was involved in creating that piece will also pay the price.

We deal in what commonly are considered luxury items. In other words fine jewellery is non-essential, unlike food, energy or pharmaceutical products. Consequently, there is a tendency to view our industry as having limited significance.

But that is not the case. On a global scale the number of individuals directly and indirectly employed by the greater jewellery industry runs into millions. Indeed, there are entire countries whose economic wellbeing is dependent upon the products we produce and sell. Jewellery may not be an essential item, but the jewellery business most definitely is, and it is in this context that I would like to outline a doctrine for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the jewellery industry, which is pertinent for the times in which we live.

The industry-wide perception of Corporate Social Responsibility that developed as a result of the conflict diamond experience in the early part of the 21 century predominantly involved the creation of defensive systems, like the Kimberley Process, all of which were designed to ensure that jewellery and its components do no harm, or as the ancient Romans said: “primum non nocere.”

Around 2004 we began discussing within CIBJO an expanded vision of Corporate Social Responsibility, by which the jewellery industry would seek not only to NOT impact negatively on society and the environment, but also to serve as a positive economic and social force, especially in the countries in which we are active.

It was this new understanding which inspired us to initiate contact with the United Nations, eventually leading to CIBJO’s becoming the jewellery industry first and only member in the UN’s Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, in 2006.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, in its publication “Making Good Business Sense” by Lord Holme and Richard Watts, used the following definition for CSR: “Corporate Social Responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development, while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.”

As businesspeople we behave ethically through the quality of our management of people and processes, as well as the way in which we impact upon society. And because we have the ability to make a difference to those around us – both negatively and positively – outside stakeholders take an interest in our activity.

When we talk about Corporate Social Responsibility it is essential to qualify exactly to whom are responsible. I would define three main groups:

(1) Our business community, which includes all the executives and employees along the entire length of the chain of distribution, or as they say, from the mine through to the jewellery retailer.

(2) Our consumers, who buy jewellery for its beauty, heritage and its ability to express human emotion, and who rely upon us to protect its value and reputation.

(3) Our stakeholders, who include the millions of individuals living in the countries and regions around the world in which are active, and for whom we represent a resource for sustainable economic and social development.

To be responsible corporate citizens in the modern jewellery business, we have to follow three basic rules of practice:

(1) To defend the industry from the various challenges that could threaten our reputation and integrity;

(2) To function as a positive influence, serving as a means for sustainable economic and social development in the communities and countries in which we are active; and

(3) To be fully transparent in the way we operate our businesses and about what we sell.

Disclosure lies at the heart of our transparency requirement, and from the consumer’s perspective our responsibility is clear. We have to inform them exactly what we are selling. Treated and synthetic gemstones, for example, are not inherently immoral nor are they illegal, as long as the consumer understands exactly what they are.

But in order to be transparent – in other words to be able to disclose clearly – one needs to be able to describe the product in a language that is understood throughout the trade. It was to advance this requirement that CIBJO developed its Blue Books, which are today the most universally recognized and accepted set of jewellery and gemstone standards in the world.

In 2007 the annual CIBJO congress took place in Cape Town, and it was the first time that such an industry event was held in Africa. In the presence of the South African deputy president and ministers from governments throughout the region, our General Assembly ratified a statement that has since become known as the Cape Town Declaration. It noted the role of the world jewellery industry in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility, and recognised “that the jewellery industry, as a member of the international business community, shares a responsibility toward the greater society in seeking practical solutions towards the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, as well as to developing a global partnership for development.”

In my opening speech at the congress in South Africa I made the following call: “Let the word go out from Cape Town that, while jewellery may described as a luxury product, the industry that produces it is an essential item—certainly when it comes to economic development. When consumers buy jewellery, they should know that not only is it an expression of value, beauty and emotion, but they have contributed to making a better life for people who need it most dearly.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Gaetano Cavalieri is president of CIBJO. The above articles is based upon a presentation he delivered at the 3rd International Gem and Jewellery Conference GIT 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 12, 2012.