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Charting A Course About Conflict July 20, 2010 (0 comments)


Last week’s double-scoop of news regarding Zimbabwean diamonds and conflict gold is enough to make your head spin. It makes mine spin, and I’ve been following these issues for years, so I can only imagine what it must mean to the industry’s front-line army; i.e. sales associates at the counter who may be challenged at any moment by a worried customer. 

With every consumer survey showing more and more concern for, and insistence upon, corporate responsibility, (both social and environmental), your sales force is significantly more likely to encounter questions from customers today than they were even a few years ago when the industry was worried that the movie Blood Diamond would scare consumers away. 

These issues are complicated, too. While there is no acceptable answer to human rights abuses, the “easy” answer—not buying diamonds or gold from the troubled regions—is not necessarily the best long-term solution either, because it risks taking the livelihood away from legitimate miners in the same region and those workers and countries trying to lift themselves from poverty will fall back again and again, just like poor Sisyphus did with his boulder. 

What to do? 

First, be sure you’re fully up to date on the situations, and make this a priority with your staff. Devote real time to discussing it with them to ensure they’re both personally comfortable with the issues and ready to allay consumer fears. 

To understand more about Zimbabwean diamond issue, I recommend these articles: Rob Bates’s blog “Cutting Remarks,” for JCK, Edahn Golan’s commentary on IDEX, a BBC news article, and an opinion piece in The New Republic and transcript of an NPR broadcast interview with Global Witness’s Annie Dunnebacke. I include the TNR piece and the NPR interview because these are examples of what influences consumer opinions about diamonds. I also encourage you to read a bit about Botswana and review some of the beneficiation initiatives to understand the good that diamonds do for Africa, not just bad. 

Turning to the conflict gold issue, it wasn’t long ago that protests against “dirty gold” were a big concern. Environmental damage is bad enough; human rights abuses are even more chilling and serious. National Jeweler summarized the passage of the conflict gold provision in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which is slated to be signed into law by President Obama this week. NJ also discussed the Zimbabwe/KP issue here

Next, review your supply chain. Obviously follow the Kimberley Process for diamond supplies, but at the moment, there’s no similar chain of warranties for gold, so it’s going to be incumbent upon each purchaser—whether retailer, wholesaler, manufacturer, or designer—to insist that the entire supply chain stays clean. 

This requires trust, pure and simple, and if you’re not sure you can trust a particular supplier—or one of your vendors gives you pushback about guaranteeing clean, conflict-free gold—you may want to revisit doing business with that firm.  While you’re at it, consider taking the same precautions for all your merchandise, not just gold and diamonds. 

As one retailer or manufacturer, you may feel there’s not much you can do. And if one is acting alone, you’re probably right. But with everyone acting together, even if we can’t stop the violence from happening, we can at least reassure consumers that we are not aiding and abetting it. 

By Hedda Schupak, Editor 

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