EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog was written by Enough Project intern Irina Balytsky.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the Great Lakes Region of Africa has been entrenched in conflict for nearly 20 years. Militias control artisanal mines and minerals, specifically tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, and profit when minerals are sold into the global supply chain through illegal networks.
In July 27, 2014, CEOs and trade leaders met with experts in New York City for one of the first-ever public events addressing conflict-free gold sourcing to be hosted by the jewelry industry. The event centered on the value of responsible sourcing, industry experiences, and tools to help build upon current initiatives.
The event featured presentations by Enough Project Policy Associate Holly Dranginis and Signet Jewelers Vice President of Corporate Affairs David Bouffard, followed by a panel discussion. The panel included Anna Bario, co-founder of the independent jeweler Bario Neal; David Bouffard; Holly Dranginis; John Green, President and CEO of Lux Bond & Green; and Scott Wanstrath, CEO of Continental Jewelry USA. David Bonaparte, President and CEO of Jewelers of America (JA), gave opening remarks, and Jennifer Peyser, Senior Mediator at Resolve, facilitated the discussion.
“We were thrilled to be invited onto the jewelry industry’s home turf to present and share opportunities with retailers and refiners about how they can become leaders in a growing global movement to end the trade of conflict gold from Congo,” says Dranginis. “Company representatives were really engaged and interested in finding out more about the situation in Congo and the practical steps they could take to support peace there.”
In addition to addressing challenges in the Great Lakes Region, participants learned about and discussed resources available for companies to address conflict minerals in their supply chains and opportunities to support responsible sourcing and development in the region. Participants also highlighted the need for jewelry industries, civil society, and government to cooperate in order to foster improved responsible gold sourcing.
In her presentation, Holly Dranginis informed participants of the conflict in the Great Lakes Region, stressed the significance of jewelry industry engagement in sourcing gold responsibly, and “identified opportunities for the industry to contribute to solutions.” Ms. Dranginis emphasized that efforts to exercise due diligence in the DRC have enabled traceable minerals to sell at higher prices than non-traceable minerals, thereby reducing significant funding sources to armed groups who terrorize civilians. However, in spite of these successes, gold is now the most lucrative mineral and remains a major driver of conflict in the DRC. As such, she presented three examples of ways the jewelry industry can help end conflict gold trade in the DRC: 1) by developing and participating in supply chain due diligence protocols, 2) by supporting strategic community development initiatives, and 3) by investing in conflict-free gold mines in the Great Lakes Region to give companies opportunities to source directly from DRC and contribute to economic development locally.
David Bouffard emphasized Signet Jewelers’ commitment to responsible sourcing and described the company’s approach. Signet has been a major leader in the jewelry industry on supply chain due diligence and helping end the conflict gold trade. Signet believes that “a responsible supply chain is fundamental to the reputation of the jewelry industry and has been active in the development of industry-wide standards.” Signet developed a set of guidelines for its gold suppliers with input from civil society and government partners, called the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols (SRSP), under which suppliers must authenticate, endorse, and audit gold from all sources utilized. In building a responsible sourcing policy, the company learned that its gold supply chain is complex, comprised of at least 1,000 distinct chains. Signet has also learned that international coalition support of responsible sourcing procedures will advance global awareness and compliance. Finally, the company has discovered that if the standards used to audit suppliers were harmonized across the industry, the burden on suppliers would be reduced.
Some key themes emerged from the panel conversation. Mr. Wanstrath and Ms. Bario specifically discussed their experiences with and support of responsible sourcing. To highlight positive change, the panelists noted that sharing stories that champion positive activities to make industry-wide change can help bring about beneficial responses from the public. The government plays an important role, and Ashley Orbach, Senior Advisor on Conflict Minerals and Precious Stones in the U.S. Department of State, talked about the government’s work with U.S.-based companies to understand the impacts of government initiatives and work together to break the link between conflict minerals and natural resources.
Looking ahead, participants noted a need for tangible advice for jewelry and retail companies. Roundtable organizers offered their assistance and voiced interest in planning future events to disseminate information amongst partners in the jewelry and retail industries, civil society, and government. Enough was thrilled to be invited by JA to be part of the conversation and looks forward to even more positive engagement with diverse stakeholders in the gold industry.
For more details about the event and helpful additional resources for companies, NGOs, and consumers, see the full summary.