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Written by Emily Foyle – intern, CLT envirolaw

On the 7th of June David Bouffard of the Signet Group held a webinar entitled “From Mine to Marriage: How Companies are Ensuring Responsible Jewellery”, alongside Dorothee Gizenga of the Diamond Development Initiative International and Joel Makower of the GreenBiz Group. In this, they highlighted the many ways in which the Signet Group is working to achieve transparency in their supply chains and combat the use of unethical mining practices.

On the one hand, it must be recognised the company has made several great steps towards this. David Bouffard highlighted their two-pronged approach. Firstly, they utilise certification schemes to ensure the transparency of the companies they work with. As a founding member of the Responsible Jewellery Council they have been very influential in progressing transparency, as the Council aims to ensure companies follow various provisions surrounding bribery, employment, environment and forced labour, and ensures the external auditing of any certified member. They also comply with the Kimberley Process, which aims to audit and control all shipments of diamonds to ensure they are conflict-free.

As the second part to their two-pronged approach, they created the Signet Responsible Sourcing Council [SRSP] to ensure every product is audited. This entails the further auditing of diamonds, with the creation of the D-SRSP in 2016, and the announcement of the planned creation of another SRSP for silver and platinum group metals, as well as one for coloured gemstones. As such, the Signet Group goes above and beyond what other jewellers are doing, who merely rely on the certification of external bodies to conduct their auditing, by creating and implementing their own auditing system.

However, while analysing their corporate social responsibility policies it appears that there are several discrepancies which expose this two-pronged approach as not being as thorough as it may at first seem. Despite the numerous auditing processes, the group is still implicated in various human rights and environmental abuses, putting the thoroughness of the systems in place under question. Indeed, the Signet Corporate Social Responsibility policy only states that they “avoid contributing to armed conflict”, leaving it seemingly unthorough and incomplete. We have been researching the structure of the Responsible Jewellery Council which still has inherent problems, such as its exclusion of any non-industry members from the council. The same rings true of the Kimberley Process, with its narrow definition of a conflict diamond allowing for the perpetuation of issues such as the exploitation of workers, the funding of conflict minerals and environmental abuses. Indeed, the SRSP, whilst seemingly furthering the prevention of these issues, fails to do so as SRSP audit can be skipped if it has already been carried out by the Responsible Jewellery Council. Thus, the SRSP fails to add anything else to the certification process, and if loopholes inherent in the Responsible Jewellery Council allow the distribution of conflict minerals, the SRSP’s limitations also permit this.

Therefore, whilst the Signet Group have in many ways made big steps towards greater transparency in their supply chain, it is not as thorough as it may seem. Stricter due diligence is required of the company, especially as a leader within the industry. The SRSP forms a strong framework for the stricter controlling of the group’s supply chain, but its failure to move past the work of the Responsible Jewellery Council greatly limits it. Truly unbiased third-party auditing, with the inclusion of non-industry members, is required to fully ensure the transparency of supply chains. Until this is achieved, the work of the Signet Group is still fundamentally incomplete.

To get a copy of our report: ‘Behind the glittering façade – Shining a Light on Slavery in the Jewellery Supply Chain – has the Modern Slavery Act had an impact?’ register your interest at info@clt-envirolaw.com. It will be available in July 2017.