In February this year, NGO Human Rights Watch launched a Behind the Bling campaign that was widely picked up on by the media. Now Chopard has publicly committed to what the watch industry describes as “impossible” or “extremely difficult”, i.e. to use only ethical gold for its watches and jewellery, starting from July this year. The announcement at Baselworld rekindles the debate on what constitutes ethical gold and the difficulty of securing its supply across a complex and fragmented chain. In a dispatch published on March 22nd 2018, Human Rights Watch stated that the standard imposed by the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), a certifying body within the industry, “requires companies to document the transactions by which they acquire their gold, [but] does not require them to conduct human rights assessments on the ground”.
Taking a stance
Chopard’s solution has been to invest in partners which can confirm the origin of the gold it uses. Since 2013, it has worked with the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) and helps gold mines in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru to obtain Fairmined certification. In doing so, it contributes to improving quality of life for mining communities, and has the assurance that the gold in question was sourced with respect for human rights and better working conditions. Because quantities of Fairmined gold are far from sufficient to cover all of Chopard’s needs, it also uses gold with Chain of Custody certification. Launched by the RJC, it enables traceability by certifying each stage in the gold supply chain.
We prefer to take a stance rather than point to shortcomings in the standard as a pretext to do nothing
The standard has come under fire, but Chopard remains determined: “There are no better standards in the watch industry or the gold supply chain at the present time,” explains Diana Cullilas, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Chopard. “We’ve always been clear that we want to increase our supply of Fairmined gold over time, and we’re more than happy to conform to tougher standards than the CoC as soon as one comes out. Yes, there is room for improvement, but we prefer to take a stance rather than point to shortcomings in the standard as a pretext to do nothing”. Chopard joined the RJC in 2010 and was awarded certification two years later. In 2013 it continued its “Journey to Sustainable Luxury” with the first supplies of Fairmined gold to its foundry. This, incidentally, is one of the keys to the brand’s success. Having started smelting its own gold in 1978, Chopard has continued to vertically integrate and now has command of the entire value creation chain, from the raw material to the finished watch or jewellery.
After gold, precious stones
Chopard has calculated that by July 2018 it will have removed all non-certified gold from its production. And this isn’t all it has planned. The Scheufele family, who own Chopard, have said they want to actively contribute to achieving United Nations Global Goals, agreed in 2015, and have launched an assessment of Chopard’s social and environmental impact as a watch and jewellery firm employing qualified artisans and working with precious metals and stones. Chopard has defined its objectives in this area, which it will announce in due course.
The traceability of gold is one thing; for a watchmaker and jeweller such as Chopard, supply of precious stones is another. This, too, is a thorny issue given the absence of a sustainable and ethical supply chain. The Kimberley Process, signed by 81 countries in 2002, focuses solely on preventing trade in conflict diamonds. There is no international system for coloured gems. Diana Cullilas is under no illusions: “It’s a necessity and an objective, but as the situation stands traceability remains extremely limited because the supply chain is still too fragmented. Chopard contributed to drafting the RJC standard for coloured stones that will come into effect at end 2018 and will lay the foundations for a responsible supply chain. In the meantime, we strongly believe in partnerships such as the ones we have with Aurora Gems for opals, Gem stones for emeralds and the Karowe mine for diamonds, to guarantee provenance. We’re ruling nothing out, including blockchain which would enable us to transparently secure the precious stones supply chain”.
The last word goes to Caroline Scheufele, co-president and art director of Chopard: “Responsibility and ethics have always been an integral part of our family’s philosophy. ‘True luxury’ is to know the real impact of a supply chain”.