Why I don’t trust Simon Johnson to improve the ethics of the jewellery industry

Greg Valerio photographed at his shop Cred Jewellery in Chichester , West Sussex . Greg Valerio is a global campaigner for fairtrade gold .
Greg Valerio photographed at his shop Cred Jewellery in Chichester , West Sussex . Greg Valerio is a global campaigner for fairtrade gold .

 

2016 has started off in a very positive light,  with the news that Greg Valerio is to be awarded an MBE for his work in establishing fair trade gold.  I e-mailed Greg to congratulate him and having read his book over Christmas, to ask him about his approach to activism and initiating change within the jewellery industry.   If your unfamiliar with both Greg and his work then I recommend his book, ”Making trouble – Fighting for fair trade jewellery”.

Greggs approach was to develop his own range of fair trade jewellery as well as commissioning a report into the jewellery supply chain ( the first of its kind) and then to present this to the trade at large via the NAG council, a representative trade organisation.  The report that Greg commissioned, ‘Towards an ethical jewellery industry’, which you can read in full here, was published in 2003 and he presented its finding to the NAJ in September of that year.

In the 12 or so years that have followed , progress has undoubtedly been made. In the UK there are now 49 Full fair trade gold licencee’s with others in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Hong Kong, The Netherlands and the USA with a whole load more registered goldsmiths of which I am one.  There is also Fairmined, who also have licensees in the UK and worldwide, again of which I am one.  However the up-take has been far from universal  and with the revelations in the report being far from positive for the industry,  came opposition.

Its a mystery to me why more jewellery haven’t become involved.  We, as a trade have essentially been gifted a trusted and internationally recognised fairtrade product which could put us on the front foot when it comes to ethics, rather than cowering in the corner as has so often been the case.

In Greggs book he mentions an episode where a jeweller, angry that the very existence of fair trade gold implies other gold is not ethical, succeeds in having his claims,  that it is impossible to do traceable gold, printed in a trade magazine.  I presume that Greg knows who this jeweller was, but has decided against mentioning them by name.  My question about his approach was why he chose to address the trade at large rather than targeting individual jewellers or companies. Its always seemed to me that a trade body such as the then NAG is driven by the needs of its members and whilst those members feel that they will not be directly linked to the savagery and misery that their supply chain often relies upon,  then there is no incentive for the NAG to act.

Greggs reply was that his tactic was to give the industry some ‘breathing room to change without loosing face’ .  An approach, in my opinion, that has been both a pragmatic and a sympathetic one,  which has yielded results.  However, over 12 years on from his initial report and the subsequent introduction of fairtrade gold , I wonder when does this grace period end?

Is 12 years a reasonable amount of time for us to get a sense of those people who acknowledge the issues and are prepared to work to address them, and those who don’t and are not?

 

 

This brings me back to the title of this article.  Another piece of news this month is that Simon Johnson of Marmalade jewellery has been nominated as Chairman of the newly formed NAJ. It is my view that he is not a suitable candidate.

His business, Marmalade Jewellery has been beating a path to become one of the industries most progressive and well thought of independent retailers,  now seemingly culminating in him being nominated as Chairman having already been Vice chairman of the National Association of goldsmiths (NAG)

My issue with his impending appointment is with how his company communicate to their customers and potential customers about their ethical policy.   On the shops website is a pretty absolute statement about conflict diamonds, it reads . . . .

 

 

”Never, ever, ever will Marmalade Jewellery buy or trade in diamonds that we cannot guarantee followed an ethically sound and clean route from mine to finger. Never.”  here is the link http://www.marmaladejewellery.co.uk/advice/The-Marmalade-Odyssey/#page/20

 

It doesn’t even narrowly specify ‘conflict diamonds’ as diamonds, the proceeds from the sale of which,  have gone on to fund rebel groups –  A legitimate criticism of the Kimberley process.  To those of us who know how ineffective the Kimberley process is ,this implies a far greater level of scrutiny on their supply chain and to those who don’t it simply acts a re-assuring, seemingly unambiguous statement to counteract the negative press that diamonds sometimes attract.

 

In truth Marmalade had been on my radar before Simon was nominated.  Their ethical policy, as stated on their website sounded good but was short on detail and I wanted to find out more so I e-mailed the shop to enquire about a ring using an alias.

Its not nice,  but the only way to find out what is really being told to potential customers is to pretend to be one.  Its my experience that most jewellers will have pretended to be a customer in a jewellers at some point.

This was our conversation,

 

Hello,
 
I have been looking at your website at engagement rings,  I was looking at Princess cut rings in platinum
 

http://www.marmaladejewellery.co.uk/the-shop/engagement-rings/lillian/Lillian-Platinum-Princess-Diamond-Engagement-Ring-0-74ct-EVS1/

 
I notice you say all your diamonds are conflict free, my fiancée is quite keen on ethics and sustainability etc. I just wanted to know how you ensured this?
 
Many thanks,
 
George
 
 

 

Dear George,

Thank you very much for your enquiry into engagement rings, what an exciting time. Obviously the ethics of diamond industry is very important to us and we can indeed confidently state that all of our engagement rings are set with diamonds that are conflict free and have passed through the Kimberly process which is a process set up to ensure that all diamonds that pass through, have a  clean route to market.

This diamond that you are specifically looking at is also a certified diamond which means it has been independently certified and comes with it’s own passport stating all the specifics of that individual diamond.

If you would like to pop in I can give you a call if you would like to discuss this further, I’d be very happy to make an appointment.

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind Regards,

 

 

 

 

Hi ,

Not to worry, I did get your e-mail yesterday thanks.  An exciting time yes, nerve racking too, I’m not used to the covert nature of all this.
Thanks for the info re the my question on ethics, I have come across the Kimberley process before but was under the impression this was widely discredited after Global witness abandoned it in 2011?  I am interested to hear about this certification, does included the stones country of origin?
I may be around next weekend to come and have a look at the ring but not this weekend,
George

Dear George,

Thank you for your email. The Kimberly Process is currently the best that the industry has to offer in terms of ensuring that diamonds come from a clean route to market. We are unable to know the exact country of origin for this particular diamond that you are interested in as a result of the standard industry procedure of aggregating the sort from mines world wide . However I can source you other diamonds that can be traced back to their country of origin, of which we can set into a ring for you. For example Canadian diamonds which can be certified as well and can be guaranteed to come from Canadian mines. If you are interested in viewing some Canadian mines, then I can arrange to have some for you to look at when you are able to come in next weekend.

Please let me know what you think or if you have any more questions.

Kind Regards,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi,

Yeah I have been looking at a Canadian diamond ring in another jewellers, it was them who told me about the problems with the Kimberley process but they don’t have a princess cut in the size I was after.  They also mentioned fair trade gold which I was considering as an alternative to platinum, do you do fair trade gold?
Please don’t get anything in yet, I may well go back to the first jewellers, having read your website I was expecting a bit more in the way of traceability.  With the Kimberley process the way it is can you really guarantee ”Never, ever, ever will Marmalade Jewellery buy or trade in diamonds that we cannot guarantee followed an ethically sound and clean route from mine to finger. Never.”  ?
Dear George,

Thanks for your last email, sorry for the delay, I have been away for the last few days. How is your engagement search going? We can indeed make your engagement ring in fair trade gold if this is what you would like, as we make all our rings ourselves in our own workshop, so anything is possible. Most of our rings that are made up are in platinum, if you wanted one made up in fair trade gold this would be a bespoke piece.

I think Canadian diamonds are definitely the way forward for you if you want to know exactly where your diamond is from. As the Canadian diamond suppliers own the mines themselves as well as the cutting centres, so can trace the diamonds through the entire process, which you don’t get with diamonds sourced from any other countries.  As you mentioned you couldn’t find the cut you wanted in a Canadian diamond, this may be because there is a lot less choice with Canadian diamonds, however if you are not in a rush to propose I can source a selection of different cuts and sizes for you to choose from.

In our statement regarding the ethnicity, we are saying that we will never buy or sell diamonds that have not passed through the Kimberly process, as this is the only way that diamonds sourced from the rest of the world can be traced. If you have any other question please let me know, or if you want you to make an appointment to discuss things more in person I would be very happy to do this.   

Kind Regards,

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi ,

No worries, the search is going ok although the whole ethical thing is a bit of minefield. Im glad you can use fairtrade gold, I couldn’t see you listed on the fairgold website.  In all honesty the search  is not helped by misleading statements like the one on your site.  If indeed you mean that you only abide by the Kimberley process, then shouldnt that be made clear?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

So more than a  month on and no reply to my assertion that their statement makes it hard for consumers who genuinely want to buy ethically to do so.  This appears to be a statement,that in private at least, they are unwilling to defend.

The point is that even when first conceived and endorsed by NGO’s like global witness, the Kimberley process never claimed to be as all encompassing as this statement implies.  To say now, when the Kimberley process is considered by all but the most biased of parties,  to be defunct, ineffective and deliberately porous, that it forms the basis for such a statement,  is wrong and misleading.

If you are unsure of what problems the Kimberley process has faced,please read this statement released by global witness in 2011 as they announced they were withdrawing their support from the programme.

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/archive/global-witness-leaves-kimberley-process-calls-diamond-trade-be-held-accountable/

To admit that  ”Never, ever, ever will Marmalade Jewellery buy or trade in diamonds that we cannot guarantee followed an ethically sound and clean route from mine to finger. Never.”  means nothing more than the KP betrays either a lack of knowledge on the subject, a skewed definition of ethics or a cynical attempt to mislead.  All of which may be true and none of which make the owner of such a business suitable to be chairman of the NAJ, one of who’s stated goal is to be a ‘unified voice for the jewellery industry’.

The Kimberley process is not fit for purpose,  it has failed to protect the people it was designed to help and this is the crux of the matter.  People are still dying, enduring appalling working conditions and being exploited to produce diamonds and this is will not change in any meaningful way whilst we uphold a fatally flawed system.  One jewellers voice is small but when someone is elevated to a position of influence they have a much louder voice, will they use that voice to challenge the status quo or reaffirm the industries commitment to deceit and complicity? The later seems more likely.

With the lack of traceability and the short comings of the Kimberley process there is no way for a Marmalade customer to know whether the diamond they have bought comes from an ethical, however loosely you define it, source and they shouldn’t be told that they can.

 

According to the e-mails ” the ethics of diamond industry is very important to us”   however marmalade appear not to be a fair trade licensee or even registered goldsmiths.  Whilst they do state they can make a ring in fairtrade gold, the gold will be obtained via a trade supplier with minimal effort from Marmalade, with the metal supplier having taken the initiative to become a license holder, stock the metal and market it.

It seems to me that to state your unerring support for the ethical issues in that trade having not taken even the most rudimental steps to ensure you can back them up is sheer arrogance. With retailers so often  being the pubic face of the industry its seems to me that it is incumbent on them take the lead.  Having fairtrade logos and jewellery in windows is a very direct way of  making the lives of some of the worlds 100 million or so artisanal miners better.

 

Also on the site, under the heading  ‘Caring about ethics and our environment’ is a paragraph that mentions the National Association of Goldsmiths code of conduct.  This isn’t mentioned in the e-mails.  Im glad they don’t have the front to state clearly that this code of conduct is wholly unrelated to the same supply chain as conflict diamonds.   It covers only second hand gold but to me a relationship is implied, what do you think? (see below)

 

marmalade2

 

 

Marmalade are by no means alone, there are plenty of jewellers who offer up the Kimberley process as a guarantee about the provenance of their diamonds,  site meaningless organisations they have joined and policies they have signed although I haven’t come across such a staunch statement that is backed up by so little elsewhere.

This is of course just one enquiry that his shop gets among many, maybe its not representative of the business and Simon, although when speaking about his new role Simon makes it clear that he doesn’t see ethics as an area that needs to be improved or refined,  however, helpfully, he has identified a few areas that do.

 

“I’m determined to carry on the good work of the current chairmen and ensure the Association is in a better position at the close of my tenure.  Finances, membership, education, consumer profile, member support, public policy all need refining and improving. A big job, but with the team we have in the office, and the support from the trade, I am confident we can raise the bar across the board to benefit everyone.”

 

I have considered that my view, that Simon is unsuitable to be chairman of the NAJ could be incorrect, maybe he is a good fit for an organisation who consider ethics to be more closely aligned with PR and policy than with standards and compliance.  Maybe ethics are something to be deflected and spun rather than implemented and complied with ?

 

 

ethics

 

No doubt some people will defend Simon, his intentions and his determination to implement ethical policies as well his aptitude for the role. I am sure he is very capable of implementing an agenda that he considers to be for the benefit of the trade but I just don’t trust an individual who seems to think that a quirky narrative is an adequate substitute for an actual ethical policy to push through the change that is required.

 

So that’s it. I’m suggesting that Simon is unsuitable for the role on the basis of a line of text on his website that doesn’t quiet ring true and a series of climbs downs when the policy is questioned. I hope the newly formed NAJ is a success but that it realises misinformation damages our industries standing and public confidence.  The issues surrounding ethics in every part of the jewellery supply chain still exist and the jewellery industry is years behind many other industries.  The NAJ should take the lead and implement a genuinely transparent traceability initiative, without that in my opinion it lacks integrity from the start.  Marmalade

 

 

 

 

As a footnote.  If you think it is none of my business to question other people about their business, then ponder why we need an NAJ atall.  If the actions and rhetoric of one jeweller doesn’t affect the trade as a whole, its reputation and standing in the public conscientious then why bother with a trade organisation, one of who’s, I mention again,  stated goals is to be a ‘unified voice for the jewellery industry’?  The Jewellery industry is not unified,  it is divided.  There are those who are serious about change and doing so and those who don’t and are not.

If you are serous about becoming a more ethical jeweller you do not need the NAJ and you shouldn’t rely on them to educate or advise you about ethics.  Not being a member does not stop you becoming a fair trade gold or fair mined liscensee, it does not stop you registering as a fairtrade goldsmith  or from stocking traceable diamonds and coloured stones.

To become a fairtrade licensee or registered goldsmith, contact fairgold  http://wordpress.p20126.webspaceconfig.de/contact-us/

To become a fairmined licensee, contact fairmined http://www.fairmined.org/contact/

To stock traceable diamonds contact http://www.canadamark.com/

To buy traceable coloured gemstones contact these guys http://www.nineteen48.com/  , http://www.fairtrade-gemstone.com/

 

2 thoughts on “Why I don’t trust Simon Johnson to improve the ethics of the jewellery industry

  1. I’m appalled by your under handed approach to try and trap Marmalade’s staff. They obviously treated you with respect, despite not knowing you or suspecting that you may be a fraudulent enquirer. It’s obvious you’re jealous of Simon Johnson’s success. It’s such a shame that the web allows people like you to flaunt poisonous opinions laced with hidden agendas. Your posting will only damage your credibility – something your inflated ego won’t acknowledge.

    1. I see, so you’re appalled that it’s been pointed out that things like this are happening,rather than the fact that they are happening? I agree, they treated my inquiry with respect, I haven’t suggested otherwise.

      You can believe that my actions are motivated by ego and jealousy if you so wish but I am genuinely motivated by a desire to see our trade grow stronger and have institutions that will take on the issues we face. I don’t believe that ignoring these very serious issues and pretending that everything is ok makes our trade stronger and it certainly doesn’t help people working in brutal and squalid conditions in mines all over the world.

      Is it so hard to believe that somebody is genuinely concerned about the welfare of the people at the bottom of our supply chain and the reputation of our trade?

      There’s no doubt there are people with genuinely ‘poisonous opinions’ who are looking to change the jewellery industry as we know it, mainly by introducing lab grown diamonds. A lot of money has been put into Lab grown diamonds and there is plenty more to follow, if you need an example of the type of things they are doing to promote Lab grown diamonds then read this article.

      http://betterdiamondinitiative.org/lab-created-diamonds-an-emerging-movement-to-protect-people-and-places/

      While I don’t believe for a second that the people behind lab grown diamonds are bothered about the ethical impact of their business, it is true that there a lot of issues with mined diamonds and other materials, that the lab grown diamond industry are only too happy to exploit. By failing to deal with these issues we are giving them all the ammunition they need. If there comes a point where lab-grown diamonds become indistinguishable from natural stones or the public decide on mass to abandon natural stones, in part by ethical reasons, then the industry will only have itself to blame.

      You mention credibility, when what I think you mean is reputation. For a good explanation of the difference, read this http://tinyurl.com/h7seo5c . There’s no doubt things like this don’t do my reputation in the jewellery industry any good, I agree. But then that wasn’t my intention. Credibility is damaged by misinformation. Imagine a scenario where somebody has been assured by their jeweller that the diamond they are buying is ‘ethical’ ,only to later find out that the jeweller has no way of knowing where that diamond is from. With only the Kimberley process as assurance that jeweller has no idea whether that diamond came from the Marange fields in Zimbabwe where local miners were massacred by government forces* or from the CAR where diamonds been funding rebels in recent conflicts** and that this is standard in the industry. Does this do the trades ‘credibility’ any good?

      *http://www.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9556000/9556242.stm
      **http://qz.com/514441/the-blood-diamond-trade-is-tearing-the-central-african-republic-apart/

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