Covid-19 Pandemic destroys mining communities, increases the risks of rights
London – Major jewelery companies are improving their gold and diamond purchases, but most can not assure consumers that their jewelery is not contaminated by human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today ahead of the holiday shopping season.
The 80-page report, “Sparkling jewelry, opaque stock chains: jewelry companies, changing purchasing practices and Covid-19, ”Research and rank 15 jewelry and watch brands in their efforts to prevent and address human rights violations and environmental damage in their gold and diamond supply chains. Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the actions of the companies since Human Rights Watch first reported on these issues in 2018. Although a majority of the jewelry companies surveyed have taken some steps to improve their practices, most still do not meet international standards.
“Many jewelry companies have made progress in sourcing gold and diamonds responsibly, but consumers still do not have adequate assurance that their jewelry is free of human rights violations,” he said. Juliane Kippenberg, co-rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Covid-19 pandemic calls for even more vigilance on the part of jewelry companies to identify and respond to human rights violations.”
Human Rights Watch also assessed the impact of Covid-19 on the mining and jewelry sector. Miners, their families and communities have been deprived of their income where mining has stalled due to downtime. Where industrial mining has continued, miners work close together in enclosed spaces and sometimes live in residences, which poses a greater risk. In some small-scale mining areas, child labor has increased and illegal mining and trade have increased.
Human Rights Watch has conducted extensive research in numerous countries where abusive practices contaminate the supply chain. In Venezuela, armed groups, known as ‘syndicates’, control illegal gold mines and have committed heinous abuses against residents and miners, including punitive amputations and torture.
In Zimbabwe, the state-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company has employed private security officers who abused residents accused of mining diamonds, including putting dogs on them.
Jewelry and watch companies have the responsibility to conduct human rights and due diligence to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to legal violations in their supply chains, in line with the United Nations. Guiding principles on business and human rights. “Appropriate prudence” refers to the process of an enterprise to identify, prevent, address and rectify human rights and environmental impacts in their supply chains.
The 15 companies that are judged together generate more than US $ 40 billion in revenue annually, about 15 percent of global jewelry sales. Nine companies responded in writing to letters requesting information regarding their procurement policies and practices: Boodles, Bulgari, Cartier, Chopard, Chow Tai Fook, Pandora, Signet, Tanishq and Tiffany & Co. Six companies did not respond to several requests: Christ, Harry Winston, Kalyan, Mikimoto, Rolex and TBZ. Human Rights Watch based its assessment on the information received or made available to the public.
Eleven of the companies assessed have taken some steps since the publication of the 2018 report to improve their due diligence on human rights,The hidden cost of jewelry: human rights in supply chains and the responsibility of jewelry companies. Companies have improved the traceability of their gold or diamonds; chose to obtain only recycled gold to avoid risks associated with newly mined gold; strengthen their codes of conduct for suppliers; their suppliers more carefully screened; or have publicly identified their suppliers. Ten of the companies are now disclosing more information about their due diligence to ensure respect for human rights.
However, the majority do not identify the mines of origin for their gold or diamonds, nor do they assess and deal with the conditions at these mines or elsewhere in the supply chain. Few people seem to be reevaluating their supply chains for Covid-19 risks, or actually taking steps to protect the rights of workers in their supply chains outside of their immediate employees.
Most businesses also do not report extensively on their prudential investigations. Four – Kalyan, Mikomoto, Rolex and TBZ – disclose little or no information about their procurement policies or practices. This lack of transparency is contrary to international norms on accountable procurement and means that consumers, communities affected and the wider public are left in the dark about possible abuses.
Human Rights Watch has found that none of the 15 can be classified as “excellent”, but two – Tiffany & Co. and Pandora – “strong” to take important steps towards responsible purchasing; three – Bulgari, Signet and Cartier – as “moderate”; and three – Boodles, Chopard and Harry Winston – as ‘fair’. Chow Tai Fook, Christ and Tanishq were considered ‘weak’, and four – Kalyan, Mikimoto, Rolex and TBZ – could not be classified due to the disclosure of their procurement practices. Five were higher in 2020 than in 2018: Pandora, Boodles, Chopard, Harry Winston and Tanishq.
Human Rights Watch has also reviewed several broader industry initiatives or multi-stakeholder initiatives, including by the Responsible Jewelery Council (RJC) and the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance. In addition, several initiatives are underway to use technologies – such as blockchain and laser technology – to ensure the complete traceability of diamonds and other minerals.
However, most existing certification initiatives are still lacking strict and transparent. Many still do not need the full traceability, transparency or thorough human rights assessments of their members. Third-party audits of jewelry supply chains are often done remotely and the results are not publicly available.
“Despite the progress, most jewelry companies can do much more to address human rights in their supply chains and share the information with the public,” Kippenberg said. “Voluntary standards can encourage jewelry companies to use better practices, but ultimately only mandatory legal requirements will ensure that all jewelry companies take human rights seriously.”