The showroom of Titan's jewellery brand "Tanishq'" at Connaught Place in New Delhi, India, October 2020. © 2020 Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto via AP

Indian-based jeweller Tanishq recently found itself in the middle of a storm after it released an advertisement depicting a Muslim family throwing a baby shower for their Hindu daughter-in-law. While many welcomed its efforts to promote communal harmony, the company was attacked for promoting interfaith marriages and faced boycott threats. The company’s decision to withdraw the advertisement amid threats of violence also drew criticism from those who had previously praised it.

Tanishq also stands out among other Indian companies for taking steps to address human rights risks in its operations and how it sources gold and diamonds.

All over the world, gold and diamond mining constitutes risky operations, and often adversely impact the environment and native communities. For over a decade, the Human Rights Watch has documented child labourenvironmental destruction, and violence by security forces or armed groups against civilians in the context of gold and diamond mining. Under international norms, companies have a responsibility to identify, address, and prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains.

To find out what jewellery and watch companies were doing to avoid contributing to such abuses in their sourcing of gold and diamonds, the Human Rights Watch in 2017 began investigating well-known jewellery and watch brands in the US, Europe and India, which make up about 30% of the global market for jewellery.

The Human Rights Watch published the findings in 2018, and in November 2020 issued a follow-up report.

In our assessment for Human Rights Watch, we included three of the largest and best-known Indian jewellery companies: Tanishq, Kalyan, and Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ). Kalyan and TBZ never replied to our queries about their approach to preventing human rights abuses in their supply chains and have not released enough information in the public domain for us to even rank their performance.

Tanishq, however, was willing to discuss these issues. With over $2 billion in revenues, responsible practices by this large Tata-owned jeweller could have a real impact. When we initially met the company’s CEO in 2018 we were disappointed. For such a well-known brand, Tanishq had done little to assess the human rights risks in its supply chains and had no code of conduct for its suppliers.

Things were different when we contacted Tanishq this year. A few weeks ago, Tanishq’s CEO, Ajoy Chawla, and the CEO of Tanishq’s parent company, Titan, took two hours to speak to us by video and walk us through a detailed presentation of their activities. We were informed of how Tanishq had developed a supplier code of conduct for their diamond suppliers with specific requirements for traceability, human rights, environment and financial integrity.

The company said it had identified, onboarded and regularly checked suppliers for their compliance. And to reduce risks related to mined gold, they had decided to source it only from companies certified by the global refiners’ association, the London Bullion Market Association.

In addition, Tanishq’s leadership said it had started to address working conditions within its direct suppliers in India. “A significant part of India’s diamond and jewellery manufacturing industry would still be defined as a ‘cottage’ sector, with most artisans working in conditions that are not pollution-free, safe, [or] ergonomic nor offering them benefits of social security,” Chawla said.

So he said that the company had rolled out a “Responsible Sourcing Framework” for its vendors – the manufacturers who supply the company – and drafted a separate code of conduct for these suppliers, requiring them to respect labour laws, including a ban on child labour, and abide by health and safety standards. Tanishq had now categorised vendors into three groups – cottage, basic and standard – prompted improvements, and set a goal for all vendors to reach the “standard” category by March 2022.

When asked how all of this changed, Tanishq’s CEO said that the 2018 Human Rights Watch report had “acted as a trigger for us to pursue this in greater depth”.

Tanishq’s progress is encouraging, and we hope that they can eventually be a model for the industry in India and the world. We have summarised the changes in our 2020 report. The company still has a long way to go before its sourcing can be considered truly responsible. For example, it still needs to assess human rights risks in the gold and diamond mines it sources from.

But this is a good start and an indisputably positive development since 2018. It shows what a company can accomplish when it decides to do what’s right for its employees, its suppliers and its consumers.