Iris Van der Veken (pictured) has resigned as executive director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), in response to how it is handling the current status of Russian diamond miner Alrosa, sources tell JCK.
Van der Veken, who has been a passionate advocate for RJC and sustainability issues as well as a prominent public face for the group, first became executive director in 2019. She declined to comment for this article.
The news comes as two large companies—Pandora and Richemont—announced they are leaving the group in response to how it’s handling the Ukraine crisis.
The main issue is whether Alrosa should continue to be RJC-certified following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The diamond miner is one-third owned by the Russian government and first received RJC certification in 2017.
Some—including RJC strategic adviser and North American trade lead Brad Brooks-Rubin—have called for Alrosa’s certification to be temporarily suspended, given it’s brought the group into disrepute. The Russian miner was sanctioned earlier this month by the United States and on Friday, by the United Kingdom.
No U.K. bodies are allowed to do business with a sanctioned entity, which could raise an issue for the London-based RJC.
The RJC said in a statement to JCK that, at the start of the invasion, it “commenced to consider the status of Alrosa as an RJC member, to ensure that appropriate action [was taken] within the powers of the Board.”
The RJC “appreciates that the pace of this process may be frustrating, but this is an unprecedented situation, which is constantly changing and requires that the time be taken to ensure that due process is followed as exhaustively as possible. It will however be concluded imminently.”
As a member-based trade association, the RJC must act in accordance with its “constitutional and statutory duties and discharge its responsibilities in good faith,” it said.
Brooks-Rubin tells JCK: “There could have been other approaches taken to what is clearly a challenging situation that would have balanced the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis with whatever legal restraints there are. Instead, there’s been silence.
“Iris has been an exemplary leader, before and during this crisis,” he says. “I hope the board will find a way to keep her as executive director.”
Earlier this month, RJC announced that Peter Karakchiev, Alrosa’s vice head of international relations, had voluntarily stepped down as its vice chair. Other than that, the group has been not commented on Alrosa’s status in the RJC.
The silence has sparked blowback from many corners of the industry, with Pandora announcing on Wednesday that it was ending its 12-year membership in the RJC.
“The decision follows RJC’s failure to suspend Russian companies’ memberships and responsible business certifications and urge its members to suspend business with Russia,” the charm manufacturer said in a statement. “Pandora had previously requested that RJC take such actions.”
Shortly after, Richemont, which owns Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and numerous fashion and watch brands, and launched a new initiative with the RJC a few months back, announced it was stepping down from the group.
“Richemont and its Maisons do not wish to be members of an industry organization which includes companies that contribute to financing conflicts and wars,” it said in a statement.
A letter addressed to the board of directors signed by RJC team members said that “Iris has brought immense value and professionalism to the RJC since she joined only three years ago, making it the highly regarded organization it is today that we are proud to work for.
“We understand Iris’s decision and are incredibly disappointed there was not a different outcome to the situation. We as a team are extremely concerned regarding the future of the RJC.”
Ironically, the RJC saluted Van der Veken’s three-year anniversary on a LinkedIn post on Monday.
In related news, Politico has reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is scheduled to address the Belgian parliament Thursday, is expected to criticize that country for continuing to allow Russian diamond imports.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has said the country would not block any European Union effort to ban Russian gems.
But industry group Antwerp World Diamond Centre has argued that a ban could be counterproductive.
Spokesperson Tom Neys told Politico: “We have invested 20 years in making the diamond trade more transparent. Are we really going to throw that all away to reward Dubai, which is already opening its doors for Russian oligarchs?”
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