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Human Rights Watch has just given fans of Tiffany & Co. a noble reason to shop there. As part of its #BehindtheBling campaign, the advocacy group looked into whether 13 of the world’s major jewelry brands responsibly source their gems and minerals. Tiffany topped HRW’s list of brands that have taken significant steps toward responsible sourcing, earning a rating of “strong” for its efforts.
“Overall, we were looking at what do companies do to make sure their gold and jewelry aren’t linked to human rights abuses,” says Jo Becker, advocacy director for HRW’s children’s rights division. “One good way of doing that is being able to trace where your gold comes from.”
The 2006 film Blood Diamond, which earned Oscar nods for both Leo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou, made the masses aware of conflict diamonds. But the HRW report makes it clear that consumers should be concerned about the origins of all gems and minerals used in their jewelry, not just the ice.
“Mining in general, whether it’s diamonds, gold, or another mineral, is riddled with human rights abuses,” Becker says. “We’ve done research on gold mining, diamond mining in Zimbabwe, which is not a conflict country, but there are really significant health hazards.”
Children are routinely killed or harmed working in the mines, which also pollute water sources with toxic chemicals, according to HRW.
The organization gave Tiffany the thumbs up in its #BehindtheBling report because three-quarters of its gold is recycled, and the other quarter comes from a Utah mine which the company can monitor and impose high standards on, Becker says. She adds that Tiffany has a strong supplier code of conduct and has been more proactive than its competitors about eliminating human rights abuses in the supply chain.
While Tiffany received a “strong” rating from HRW (no brand got an “excellent” rating), companies such as Bulgari, Cartier, Pandora, and Signet — home to Kay, Zales, Jared, and more — earned a “moderate.” Legacy brands such as Harry Winston and Chopard received a “weak” rating. Rolex did not earn a ranking at all, because, Becker says, the company didn’t respond to HRW’s inquiries.
“We’re still actively encouraging [Rolex] to be more public...about what steps they take to address human rights abuses, to be clearer about where their gold and diamonds come from — not just country of origin, but to be able to identify actual mines.”
Responsible sourcing isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s good for business. Millennials make up nearly half of jewelry consumers and prioritize buying ethically sourced gems.
“The research shows younger customers are increasingly concerned about where their jewelry comes from,” Becker says. “Diamond company De Beers surveyed 75,000 customers; 36 percent of millennials say responsible sourcing is the category where they’re least likely to compromise when they are shopping for diamond rings.”
HRW is not the only organization that has taken a deep dive into jewelry sourcing. Earthworks’ “No Dirty Gold” campaign also examined this issue. But that report focused more on the environmental aspects of mining than the human rights angle, Becker says. In any case, she wants jewelry companies to evaluate their practices.
“We’re hopeful that it’s got enough attention to move some of these companies in another direction,” she says.