A girl works in an artisanal diamond mine in Sosso Nakombo, Central African Republic, near the border with Cameroon, in August 2015.

© 2015 Marcus Bleasdale for Human Rights Watch

(London) – The Responsible Jewellery Council, an international industry group, should strengthen its standard for responsible sourcing of gold, diamonds, and other minerals, 20 independent groups and trade unions said today in a letter to the group’s standards committee.

The organization is reviewing its core certification standard for its members, which include more than 1,000 companies in jewelry supply chains, including mining companies, refiners, manufacturers, and jewelry retailers. The public comment period on revisions to the standard closes on July 1, 2018.

“The RJC should make significant changes to its code to raise the bar for responsible sourcing in the jewelry industry and provide consumers with confidence that their jewelry is not tainted by human rights abuse,” said Jo Becker, an advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

The Responsible Jewellery Council’s certification standard, known as the Code of Practices, sets out business practices in regard to human rights, labor rights, environmental impact, mining practices, product disclosure and other issues in the jewelry supply chain. All members must be certified as compliant with the code through a third-party audit.

The letter recommended that the code should be brought fully into alignment with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas, including its five-step framework to identify and respond to human rights risks in the minerals supply chain. The OECD’s guidance is the most authoritative and widely accepted standard in the minerals sector.

The council plans to complete its review by the end of 2018. Reform may be particularly urgent for member companies now, as the European Union has made clear that it will recognize only refiners operating according to OECD-aligned standards as “responsible” for its minerals regulation entering into force in 2021. A recent assessment of the Responsible Jewellery Council by the OECD called for more robust due diligence measures.

The groups emphasized that the OECD due diligence should also be applied to diamond supply chains. Currently, Responsible Jewellery Council members are expected to avoid “conflict diamonds” that may be linked to abusive rebel groups, but many do not conduct due diligence for other human rights abuses such as child or forced labor.

The groups urged the council to require all members to report publicly on their efforts to address human rights and undergo more transparent and rigorous third-party audits. Currently, full audit results for individual companies are not even shared with the council.

Human Rights Watch examined responsible sourcing in the jewelry industry in a February 2018 report, The Hidden Cost of Jewelry. The report assessed 13 well-known jewelry and watch brands, as well as several global standards, including the RJC’s. The organization also is carrying out a campaign, called #BehindTheBling, to urge jewelry companies to source gold and diamonds responsibly.

“The RJC’s Code is full of loopholes and provides no guarantee that jewelry from a member is responsibly sourced,” Becker said. “With its current review process, the council should seize the opportunity to bring its code into line with international best practices.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the jewelry industry, please visit: The Hidden Cost of Jewelry

Please note additions have been made since original publication.