New Publication: Challenges to advancing environmental and social responsibility in the coloured gems industry

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On 29 January 2016, the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP) published a report that provides insight into the main challenges hindering the setting of a common and collaborative framework to advance the environmental and social responsibility agenda of the coloured gems industry, and uncovers potential areas where convergence on the priorities of these challenges can be found in order to contribute to identifying a clear path towards a collaborative framework.

The report, “Challenges to Advancing Environmental and Social Responsibility in the Coloured Gems Industry”, consolidates the thinking and views expressed by 48 individuals that were interviewed between June and August of 2015, in addition to some elements from existing literature and the responses to a survey administered to eight luxury jewellery brands. It presents the top ten challenges where the greatest convergence was found in terms of importance and priority.

The findings of the report suggest that industry’s current economic model is seen as the main challenge to advancing the social and environmental responsibility agenda. This is reflected on how way value is determined and how it is translated into economic and pricing decisions throughout the supply chain.

It also highlights that the quantification of the potential economic value of improved social or environmental performance has largely been ignored and tools to determine it are lacking. Thus, a very strong emphasis is being put on seeking the best available price without due consideration of externalities or hidden costs.

The report recognises the different economic, social, political, security and cultural circumstances of the broad number of countries or regions where coloured gemstones are sourced, and underlines the difficulties of attempting to push forward a generalised, one-size-fits-all and top-down approach to address the industry’s challenges on the whole. If further emphasises that it is unrealistic to think that the same tools and instruments will be equally effective across all geographies, situations and contexts.

From the environmental perspective, the report identifies the absence of a basic awareness of the importance of the environment in general and of the functions of biodiversity and ecosystems in sustaining long-term livelihood opportunities as a major obstacle. This results in a lack of incentives and adequate resources for technical support to address environmental issues.

The lack of a common stance on traceability was also examined. The perspectives and assessments of the current situation and needs around this issue varied widely across respondents. In addition the lack of adequate evaluation and mechanisms to address the reasons why some supply chains in the industry operate with a high degree of opacity and lack of traceability is seen as a major challenge in advancing a common agenda on transparency and traceability.

Other challenges identified and analysed by the report include capacity and knowledge gaps, the lack or appropriate laws and regulations for artisanal and small-scale mining, the informality, illegality and lack of organisation existing in the sector, and the limited role for women.

Finally, the perceived lack of leadership from larger retailers and brands and the overall absence of consumer drive for these issues were identified as two factors that have contributed to a lack of pre-competitive collaboration and honest brokers to bring about a framework for this collaboration to take place.

The report can be downloaded from RESP’s website at the following link: Challenges to Advancing Environmental and Social Responsibility in the Coloured Gems Industry