Industries looking to shore up their reputations as globally responsible usually begin and end with “going green.” But the jewelry industry has an additional layer to transcend beyond environmental do-goodery. Ethical responsibility—ensuring that business practices have zero negative impact on the health and happiness of others—has long preoccupied the industry, and the issue is now top of mind for consumers.
Enter the Responsible Jewellery Council, a London-based nonprofit that promotes ethical, social, and environmental practices in the trade chiefly through its member certification process, which singles out businesses that enforce a rigid code of responsibility.
The organization certifies all chinks in the jewelry supply chain, from mine to market, and strives to inspire “absolutely correct behavior [through] conformance with standards that include respect for people, environment, and business ethics,” says CEO Michael Rae.
Of only 31 certified retailers worldwide—including Tiffany & Co., De Beers, and Ben Bridge Jeweler—11 are based in the United States. Membership is still tiny because the road to certification is famously fearsome.
“The process is rigorous,” says John Green, president and CEO of Connecticut-based Lux Bond & Green, which was RJC-certified earlier this year.
Filling out RJC’s lengthy self-assessment, which includes queries on everything from where you buy your diamonds to where your fire extinguishers are located, “took place over a couple of months,” says Green. Next up: an independent store audit to identify any operational shortcomings. This can cost retailers upwards of $3,000.
Lux Bond & Green’s auditor roamed around the company’s eight stores plus headquarters, interviewing people randomly. But the invasive process, Green says, was worth it: “Everything that RJC stands for is parallel with what Lux Bond & Green stands for.”
The myriad steps proved too overwhelming for at least two independent retailers this year: Vicki Cunningham, co-owner of Cunningham Fine Jewelry in Tulsa, Okla., has been on the board of the RJC since its inception in 2005, but was forced to resign when she halted her application process because of the costs of the audit and the manpower lost doing paperwork.
John Hayes, owner of Goodman’s Jewelers in Madison, Wis., also wrestled with the decision. “It’s difficult for a small store like ours to get all the procedures and manuals written up,” he says. “Just too expensive.”
Rae admits “the documentation and questions for achieving RJC certification can seem daunting at first.” But he insists that completing the self-assessment “will save the retailer time and money in the auditing stage.”
Green agrees that the hours spent reevaluating his business “ultimately made us a better company. By [becoming] certified, people understand that we pay attention to the issues that every business should pay attention to,” he says. “It makes a statement.”