RAPAPORT… Holding its first conference on African soil, CIBJO takes a hard look at its ethical responsibility toward mineral-rich countries.
Convening under the banner of “Delivering a Responsible, Sustainable and Profitable Global Jewellery Industry,” the 81st international CIBJO congress, held March 12 to 15 in Cape Town, South Africa, was remarkable for the depth and breadth of the constituents gathered to discuss the theme of beneficiation for suppliers of raw materials. The sheer variety of participants and delegates — including such notables as De Beers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer, and South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka — highlighted another recurring conference theme: unity and partnership. CIBJO is an international confederation of national jewelry trade organizations that seeks to promote consumer confidence in the industry by encouraging cooperation and standards among its members.
“All this is a far cry from the fractured, discordant and, frankly, often ineffective organization of the past,” said Oppenheimer. He spoke about creating industry partnerships and controlling unethical practices, stressing the moral necessity of bringing full integrity and transparency into the industry. Failure to do so, he told the audience, would have dire consequences.
“The guy in the next office who operates in blatant disregard of the law and ignores the rules that govern our business is not a ‘naughty colleague’ or a ‘rogue element’ unconnected with the respectable trade, but your enemy — he has the ability to destroy your business and will do so, and disappear back into the shadows with his ill-gotten gains,” Oppenheimer warned.
World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB) President Ernest Blom, a South African native, acknowledged that beneficiation initiatives had “given rise to a fair degree of anxiety in the international diamond trade, as well as elsewhere in the jewelry sector.” However, the presence of the United Nations (UN) at the conference seemed to speak to the willingness of jewelry representatives to confront the economic and social challenges.
CIBJO’s recent alliance with the UN’s Economic and Social Council represents a first for an organization in the jewelry sector. Noting the uniqueness of the collaboration, UN Chief of Protocol Alice Hecht pointed out, “In a world fractured by violence, wars, ethnic tensions and nationalism, partnership is a huge challenge, but it is the only hope for bettering humanity.”
South Africa’s Hope
The decision to hold the conference in South Africa was significant on many levels. The nation is the world’s largest producer of gold and platinum and the fourth-largest global provider of diamonds. According to the South African Department of Trade and Industry, 25 percent of all raw materials for worldwide jewelry production originate in that country, yet less than 0.5 percent of the world’s fabricated jewelry is actually produced there.
South Africa’s predicament is similar to many mineral-rich African nations that lose out on most of their mineral benefits through exportation and exploitation. South Africa is trying to change this scenario, and numerous high-ranking government officials addressed the steps already undertaken and the challenges that lay ahead.
Underscoring the importance of the gathering in South Africa, Abbey Chikane, the chairman of the Jewellery Council of South Africa, emphasized that the annual convention “had to meet here” to “lay a solid foundation for the future of the jewelry industry” in South Africa.
To that end, Buyelwa Sonjica, South Africa’s minister of minerals and energy, described new legislation that was recently passed, notably the Diamond Amendment Bill and the Precious Metals Beneficiation Bill. The bills provide for local measures of control over the country’s mineral resources, including a 15 percent export duty on all diamonds leaving the country.
Creating economic incentives for the local populations, however, is only the beginning of a much longer process that must include educational, health and poverty programs as well. In particular, Mlambo-Ngcuka cited pervasive issues in South Africa, such as high youth unemployment caused in part by a shortage of skilled labor, as well as the lack of a basic infrastructure needed to carry out manufacturing. Mlambo-Ngcuka outlined the initiatives that her country is taking to alleviate these problems, with hopes of being the only African country to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
The presentations of other speakers attempting to run fair trade jewelry programs emphasized the significance of these social issues as well. Both Greg Valerio, founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Cred Jewellery, in London, and Tom Cushman, manager, Institute Gemmologie de Madagascar (IGM), described their own attempts to bring beneficiation and fair trade principles to disadvantaged populations. Valerio, in particular, called for a bottom-up process in which miners set their own standards rather than relying on a top-down, government-initiated process. His point was well-targeted as the ability of CIBJO to implement these new standards has yet to be seen. The organization’s leaders acknowledged that the process to set ethical guidelines for the industry regarding social corporate responsibility was still in its infant stages.
As much as it is a benefit that a wide-range of CIBJO representatives — encompassing government reps and small and large businesses — shared their experiences at the conference, CIBJO must find a way to set guidelines that can meet the different concerns of all the players.
Many at the conference credited CIBJO President Gaetano Cavalieri for having skillfully created broad-based coalitions within the organization. It remains to be seen, however, whether CIBJO can address the issue of corporate social responsibility in a meaningful way.
For people like Valerio, however, that question is irrelevant. “The appetite for fair trade jewelry is huge. It’s not a matter of if it will exist, but when it will exist,” he said.