Responsible Jewellery Council Commercial Membership

overall rating:

0.5

planets

Tracy Li
8/2/2022

This review is slightly different from my previous reviews. This time I want to look into the management of an organisation, the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), that self-claims to be the world’s leading standard-setting organisation for the watch and jewellery industry. The RJC’s Code of Practices (COP) is the global standard for the jewellery and watch industry supply chain, covering most of the primary minerals and metals in jewellery manufacturing, including gold, silver, platinum group metals, diamonds and coloured gemstones. The main purpose of the COP is to monitor, guide and address a wide range of supply chain issues such as business ethics, human rights and social and environmental performance. RJC provides three different kinds of certificates based on the size and function of one business. This week, I want to investigate if the RJC commercial membership is “more than just a pathway to sustainable growth”. However, the result indicates that RJC is not practicing responsively or sustainably at all. The standard to join and remain in RJC as a member is low while the certificating process is problematic in revealing the real sustainable level of a company. Additionally, the governance (internal management) of RJC is unfit for setting a standard for cooperative responsibility and sustainability.

Since this is not a product review, the meanings of the three rating sections might be adjusted for an organisation review. In the RJC case, I consider the applying criteria and rules for being a commercial member of the organisation is for ‘What it’s made of’. For ‘How it’s made’, I focus on the procedures of an application and the minimum requirement to maintain the membership. For ‘Who makes it’, there are two factors to assessing RJC’s management. One is the existing members of the organisation. The other is the founders and the current manager of RJC. [EF2] [LC3]

What it's made of:

1

For this section, I look at the basic requirements for a commercial member to join RJC. The RJC Code of Practice (COP) is the priority for this section’s rating. 

From the RJC website, it is easy to access the membership eligibility requirements. As RJC says, its members commit to promoting responsible ethical, human rights, social and environmental practices in a transparent and accountable manner throughout the industry, from mining to retail. However, I was startled by how simple, easy the criteria are. There are 4 basic requirements to join RJC. Firstly, the business should be actively involved for commercial reasons in the diamond, coloured gemstones, gold, silver and/or platinum groupd metals jewellery and watch supply chain. Second, the business must be exempt from consultant, advisor, independent auditor or any other similar entity. Third, the business must agree to display the company name on the RJC website. Lastly, the company should submit the application to RJC and pays the annual membership within 30 days of the invoice. If one company can do all mentioned, RJC might certificate the applicant with the desired membership for promoting business development.

These rules are far too simple to justify whether the business is truly responsible or not. To solve this problem, RJC only allows its accredited third-party auditor to verify compliance with COP  from four aspects: business ethics, human rights and social performance, environmental performance and management systems. Nonetheless, the established COP in 2009 received strong criticism on human rights issues in the mining process. In 2013, the COP was updated to address the “Indigenous Peoples and Free Prior informed Consent” in the mining sector by obligating members to respect the native groups’ rights, social, environmental, cultural and economic interests and to obtain and document broad support of affected indigenous peoples in mining operations. It seems the COP benefits the indigenous people. However, it is unknown how much dignity and honour are paid to the indigenous communities under the new COP. What is the standard, actually? Earthworks, an NGO based in Washington DC, reviewed RJC’s COP and believed RJC doesn’t adequately address the mercury emission problem in all mining. Why does RJC ignore this hazardous condition in the supply chain? My answer is that perhaps RJC sets the standard too low. [EF5] I can understand that an audit should be more essential for certificating. Nevertheless, the very entry requirement for the membership application should be higher. For instance, the applicant should submit their sustainable plan/goal/missions or environmental impact report or ESG report. RJC can also ask for a cover letter from the applicant. If RJC does want to flag itself as the standard of responsibility, it should be responsible for the start of application process by putting more effort to select the correct businesses to join.

 

If RJC’s standards are so low, how would I trust the commercial members can practise sustainability at a high standard? Therefore, I can only rate RJC for one planet in this part.

How it's made:

0.5

For ‘How it’s made’, I focus on the procedures of an application and the minimum requirement to maintain the membership.

If a business wants to join RJC’s commercial membership, it must undergo an independent audit to prove they meet the COP. As mentioned earlier, the business must use one of the independent and accredited auditors to complete and pass the audit to become a certified member. To retain the membership, the business will need to do a re-audit every three years. Also, the business needs to pay the membership fee, depending on the business operation type. The annual fee charges 0.004% or 0.006% of annual relevant sales, but with a minimum of $790 and a maximum of $102000.

The trouble is about the auditor accreditation process. Those accredited auditors have passed a thorough application process and receive ongoing training. Nevertheless, RJC does not clarify if the application was passed onto RJC or if RJC provided the training. No available information indicates that RJC’s auditor criteria are high, except that RJC has claimed high credibility. I’m very suspicious about the probity of the relationship between RJC and those auditors. Even in the early years, a few environmental NGOs including Earthworks and MiningWatch, strongly critiqued the inconsistency and bad rigorousness in the RJC’s auditor accreditation process. Former Chief Executive Michael Rae also admitted this problematic issue. Nevertheless, there is no sight of change at all.

The other troubling problem in the certification process is that the membership is granted to the whole business without considering the source of products or the individual sites of facilities. For example, Tiffany&Co is an RJC certified member because its iconic blue boxes are made by Forest Stewardship Council accredited suppliers.  Ask whether Tiffany&Co is responsibly sourcing its materials or producing its products or not. The previous review (https://www.voizdao.xyz/review/tiffany-co-heart-tag-charm) might give you a very negative answer. RJC certification process doesn’t sound credible and trustworthy to me anymore.

In this part, I cannot give RJC a good rating because of the flaws in both certificating process and auditor accreditation. Moreover, the lack of information and transparency keeps the rate low. I expect more transparency in the auditing process. Perhaps, there can be public audit disclosures. Moreover, I would like to know who approves the certification to the businesses, and what the criteria and standards the auditors look at are.

Overall, I give RJC  0.5 planet in this part.

Who makes it:

0

For ‘Who makes it’, there are two factors to assessing RJC’s management. One is the existing members of the organisation. The other is the founders and the current manager of RJC

RJC was founded in 2015 by 14 organisations, including Diamond Trading Company, Cartier, Signet Group and Tiffany&Co. RJC claims itself to set a global standard for the jewellery and watch industry to follow. However, some of the founders, especially the Diamond Trading Company which is a part of the De Beers Group, were known for unsustainable or irresponsible development. While the environmental destruction is forever, RJC is created by those who caused the damages at the first place. Based on the previously mentioned low standards, problematic auditing and certificating processes, I am hardly convinced that RJC is bring a sustainable future. Perhaps, RJC is a disguise for irresponsibility or a face-saving project for greenwashing.

Furthermore, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, RJC faced several of its high-profile members, such as Cartier, Richemont Group and PNDORA.CO leaving the organisation. It was because RJC refused to remove its vice chair, the Russian state-backed company and the world’s largest diamond mining company, Alrosa, after the conflict started. In fact, this is not the first time when RJC was labelled with low moral values. People have noticed that RJC never banned developments in conflict zones. Apparently, RJC has no intention to change its statement and condition in operating in the conflict zones since RJC still did not take action against Alrosa. Instead, Alrosa stepped down voluntarily.

The other problematic issue in RJC is membership management. Or, we can say it is the lack of information and transparency. Although the RJC website provides a shortcut to ‘Find an RJC member’, there are more than 30% of the listed companies do not presenting a link to the business website. The more unusual thing is that the RJC website does not even provide the members' phone number or email addresses, and 15% of members can hardly get in touch by Google search. Apart from that, it is surprising that RJC doesn’t exist on Wikipedia while claiming as the world’s leading standard-setting organisation and holding more than 1600 memberships. I’m very curious about what has made RJC influential but also ‘low-key’.

Therefore, I give RJC zero planet in this part because of its attitude toward wars and the lack of transparency. RJC is far from being responsible and not sustainable at all.