responsible jewelry: the search for credibility

Got a new article up on Triple Pundit:

Picture ARM

Responsible Jewelry: The Search for Credibility

With the failures of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), as evidenced by ongoing human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, pressure is building for mining and jewelry companies to become transparent, accountable, and fair. But will the new certification systems be credible?

At this year’s Fair Trade Diamond Conference in Las Vegas, discussion of competing certification systems was rigorous. At one table sat a representative from the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC); at another sat a representative from the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM). Both organizations are establishing vital new standards for socially responsible—or in ARM’s case Fair Trade—gems and precious metals. But their divergent approaches highlight the importance of involving local stakeholders in creating standards that are effective and credible.

RJC, a participant in the United Nations Global Compact initiative, has nearly completed its standards for certification of large-scale mining operations and is seeking input from civil society mining organizations that promote social and environmental justice. RJC standards would require sensible practices like protecting ecosystem biodiversity and ensuring that “the interests and development aspirations of affected communities are considered.”

Yet several leading NGOs have declined to endorse RJC’s process and operation, describing it as “industry-led and industry-governed.” In a disapproving letter to RJC, civil society organizations, including Earthworks, OxFam, Global Witness, and CAFOD, sight such critical issues as the lack of independent, third-party certification, and the absence of local and community stakeholder involvement . These organizations further caution that RJC “continues to omit key requirements for more responsible mining,” notably:

  • Respect for the right of free, prior, and informed consent for indigenous peoples (per ILO 169)
  • Community consent for resettlement
  • No-go areas for biodiversity conservation
  • Protection of natural water bodies from tailings disposal.

ARM offers a different approach than RJC. Working exclusively with artisanal and small-scale mining operations, ARM, together with Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO), is nearing completion of the first Fair Trade standards for gold, and is also requesting consultation from various stakeholders including the public at large. ARM was inspired by the decade-long work of Oro Verde, a small ecologically-oriented gold mine in Colombia whose members actually helped form ARM. Indeed, ARM has integrated small-scale miners fully into the process, including as board members and technical advisors.

ARM’s intimate relationship with the local miners and focus on biodiversity leads to more comprehensive standards. For instance, ARM standards firmly adhere to ILO 169 and require “respect for local cultural practices in order to reach agreements with the local traditional authority and community.” ARM’s standards underwent three rounds of public consultation, included face-to-face workshops and learning sessions at local and global levels, and was posted in four languages on ARM’s website. Furthermore, unlike RJC, ARM is taking a chain-of-custody approach to certification, which means that ARM and FLO will be able to track the gold from mine to market.

The result, as Sonya Maldar, a policy analyst at CAFOD and signatory to the RJC letter, explained in a recent phone conversation, is a more legitimate and effective certification system:

“Consumers [of ARM/FLO certified Fair Trade gold] will be able to trust that the artisanal and small-scale miners were not left out of the process. ARM works directly with small-scale miners to help them organize and set up projects, and FLO is ensuring that the miners receive a premium for their product.”

While the RJC and ARM are not entirely comparable (RJC works with large-scale mines and ARM works with small-scale mines), their approaches can certainly be contrasted. Engaging the local populations, as ARM does, adds significant credibility and legitimacy to their standards—and it’s not going unnoticed. Other large-scale mining certification schemes are following ARM’s lead. RJC competitor, the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), has taken a rigorous multi-stakeholder approach in establishing its standards and has earned the support of many of the same NGOs that declined to endorse RJC.

For jewelry and mining companies truly serious about maintaining credibility with consumers, it is critical that their certification standards involve miners at the local level from the very beginning. Credibility can no longer be fabricated—it must be earned.

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