Enlightened Self- Interest

A thought occurred to me on the train returning from a meeting with New York City officials. It was held to discuss a serious safety problem. Several explosions occurred in jewelry manufacturing operations as a result of the improper mixture of natural gas and oxygen at the bench. Fortunately, the explosions did not cause serious injury or damage. They occurred during production of platinum products, which requires higher temperatures than gold. My thought was this: Here’s another case where the jewelry industry came together to address a problem and work with government officials and technology experts to solve it. There were no threats. There was no posturing. There were calm, rational discussions. Five years ago a similar situation occurred in Los Angeles with a fire department crackdown on manufacturing methods. Again, the industry came together to address the situation and fix the problem.

This meeting comes on the heels of a series of other recent industry developments: the formation of the Council for Responsible Jewellery Practices and the diamond industry’s focus on conflict diamonds. CRJP was organized by a group of miners, manufacturers, retailers, and associations that are concerned about the practices and the public image of the various components of the jewelry industry and the response to legitimate concerns about how the industry mines, manufactures, and distributes its product. Nongovernmental organizations have become the point of pressure on many industries whose practices do not conform to the NGOs’ best practices or philosophy. In the case of the jewelry industry, the NGO philosophy was ultimately expressed in the Valentine’s Day “No Dirty Gold” ad.

Through CRJP, the world jewelry industry is coming together to respond to the questions and actions of groups with their own economic and political philosophies. With conflict diamonds, the industry joined together to address and craft a solution by adopting the Kimberly Process.

The industry is legitimately concerned about the issue as well as potential negative publicity. It’s strange, however, to consider that NGOs, and not governments, are the change agents in the process. What do we know about any of these groups? To whom are they responsible? How are they funded? What’s their agenda and philosophy? I believe we know very little. It seems that NGOs operate outside the mainstream of the political environment, and I’m not sure that’s appropriate. For-profit organizations—corporations and independently owned businesses—are at the mercy of NGOs. Transparency is a requirement of business today. Businesses have to adhere to a myriad of government and quasi- government rules and regulations as expressed, for example, in Sarbanes Oxley and Security and Exchange Commission laws.

Perhaps it’s just another example of governments not getting things done.