JA Does ‘Social Review’

As the trade reels from the controversies over conflict diamonds and terrorist ties to tanzanite, Jewelers of America (JA) has hired consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to create a jewelry industry statement of social principles. The statement will help retailers identify and prepare for possible issues that may have an effect on their businesses, JA says.

“There are a lot of other issues that could raise concerns among either consumers or NGOs [nongovernmental organizations],” says senior vice president David Rocha. “We want to be proactive and identify issues like conflict diamonds before they impact the industry. There are things that could be talked about as far as labor standards, things like child labor, how products affect the environment. What we’ve seen so far is just the beginning of what could be brought up against the industry.”

When completed, the Social, Ethical, and Environmental Statement of Principles will be incorporated into the JA Code of Ethics. The process will take years, Rocha says, and JA hopes eventually to involve other organizations.

While most of the potentially problematic issues lie on the other side of the supply chain from jewelers, JA’s goal is to influence the entire industry. For example, it wants its retailers to buy only from manufacturers whose working conditions conform to modern labor standards. Those manufacturers will, in turn, buy only from mines and suppliers who pledge the same. “We know these problems exist in the world,” Rocha says. “We’re saying let’s try to identify them before they cause problems for our members.”

In other news, a JA bylaw change that would let department stores into the organization may be rescinded. (See “What Does JA Stand For?” JCK, October 2001, p. 118.)

A JA task force recently recommended that the group reverse its position and continue to bar mass merchants and department stores. The organization’s board was scheduled to discuss the issue in January. The task force was convened after the rule change sparked mostly negative feedback from members.

Advocates of the rule change argue that the department stores would have to fulfill JA’s ethical and educational criteria. But some say JA should represent independents only.

Meanwhile, any department store applications are being put on hold—although the organization notes that it hasn’t received any since the rule changed.