(HRW) – The Swiss luxury jeweler Chopard announced today that beginning in July, it will use “100% ethical gold” in its jewelry and watches. Its announcement is welcome, but may also be misleading.
Chopard has more than 100 stores worldwide, with an annual revenue topping US$800 million. When Human Rights Watch assessed the company for a recent report on the jewelry industry, it stood out for its efforts to support responsible mining in the artisanal sector. Over a period of several years, the company provided funds and expertise to help several gold mines in Latin America get training, social welfare, and education, and reach “Fairmined” certification – a rigorous standard that regularly assesses mines for human rights.
These efforts are important. The artisanal sector employs more than 90 percent of the world’s 40 million miners. And while working conditions are often very poor, investing in the sector – as Chopard is doing – can both improve working conditions and support thousands of mining communities.
So far, Chopard has only sourced about 5 percent of its gold from these mines, and has been opaque about the origin of the remaining 95 percent. In today’s announcement, Chopard said starting in July it will source most of its gold from refineries certified by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a shift, it claims, that will make its entire gold supply chain “100% ethical.”
We disagree. The RJC plays a very important role in the jewelry industry, but its standards do not yet represent industry best practices. While the standard requires companies to document the transactions by which they acquire their gold, it does not require them to conduct human rights assessments on the ground. This means that the gold could still be mined under abusive conditions, such as child labor.
Chopard also announced that it will support another mine in Peru, with the goal of reaching Fairmined certification, and that it will progressively increase the proportion of gold that it sources from such mines.
Chopard should be applauded for its support for artisanal mines through the Fairmined program. But it cannot claim to be “100% ethical” until the RJC sets a higher bar for responsible sourcing. In the meantime, Chopard can lead by ensuring all of its gold and diamonds are fully traceable and transparent, and ensuring a system to address human rights risks throughout its supply chain.