(HRW) – More than 60 institutional investors urged jewelry manufacturers and retailers to address human rights risks in their supply chains this week, showing that environmental and human rights advocates aren’t the only ones concerned about abuses in gold and diamond mining.
The investors – which include asset managers, pension funds, and faith-based institutions – expressed concern about child and forced labor in mining, environmental damage, and displacement of indigenous peoples. They called for stronger action from the jewelry industry to ensure their products do not contribute to human rights abuses, saying that responsible sourcing is not only the ethical thing to do, but also good business practice. When businesses fail to respect human rights, they risk reputational harm and expensive litigation.
The investors are part of the Investors Alliance for Human Rights. Launched in May of this year, the Alliance promotes coordinated investor action on human rights and business risks. Collectively, its members have more than US$2 trillion in assets.
“Precious metals and gems are often used to commemorate the most sacred and momentous events in the human experience,” an Alliance spokesperson said. “It is unconscionable that these gifts are built on human suffering and injustice. As investors, we need to see greater action—including improved standards and certifications—from the manufacturers and retailers in this space.”
The investors recognized that some companies in the jewelry industry are taking important steps to address human rights risks in their supply chains, but that most fall short of meeting international standards. In February, Human Rights Watch released a report scrutinizing the practices of over a dozen jewelry and watch brands.
The investor statement was sent directly to 32 individual companies, including jewelry and watch companies as well as large department stores and other retailers. It urged these companies to conduct robust due diligence over their supply chains, ensure full chain of custody over gold and diamonds, report publicly on their efforts, and take other steps to set a high bar for responsible sourcing. The statement also urged the Responsible Jewellery Council, an industry body, to strengthen its certification standards, make its audit process more transparent, and include civil society in its governance structure.