People in the United States will now be able to buy jewelry made with "conflict-free" gold from Zales and Kay Jewelers, two of the nation's largest jewelry retailers.
The RAGS (Responsible Artisanal Gold Solutions) Forum announced last week the first "conflict-free" supply chain from an artisanal mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo to US retailers. This is good news - even though the amount of gold coming this way may be small.
In the past, many mainstream jewelers have understandably avoided "conflict minerals" such as gold from the Congo because of its links with violent and abusive armed groups and elements of Congolese security forces. The RAGS initiative, supported by USAID and civil society groups, worked with a local mine in South Kivu to improve working conditions, address human rights issues, and ensure full traceability from the mine site to the retailer. The gold has been manufactured into earrings now sold by Signet Jewelers, the world's largest diamond retailer and the parent company of Zales and Kay Jewelers.
Traceability is a big issue for the jewelry industry. We recently assessed 13 well-known jewelry brands for their sourcing practices. We found many jewelry companies did not know the source of their gold and diamonds, and as a result did not know enough about human rights risks in their supply chains.
Now, Signet has traceability over a small portion of its gold. However, the vast majority of Signet's gold comes from refiners that are expected to carry out their own due diligence over their supply chain, which in some cases fall short of international human rights standards. But it is a good start, especially for Congo, where most of its artisanally-sourced gold is smuggled out of the country.
The new initiative also shows that it is possible to source responsibly from local artisanal mining communities, which provide livelihoods for an estimated 40 million people worldwide, many in poor rural communities throughout the global South. Helping these mines meet human rights and environmental standards and then sourcing their gold contributes enormously to social and economic development in local communities.
Other jewelers, such as Cartier and Chopard, have similarly supported and sourced from artisanal mines in Latin America. Such initiatives are a win-win for jewelers. They not only support local mining communities, but also can assure their customers of their gold's origins. Other jewelers should follow suit.
Jo Becker (Advocacy Director, Children's Rights Division)