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Tiffany & Co. long ago recognized the inconvenient truth that the core activity upon which all jewelers rely – precious metal and gemstone mining – has a long and sad association with human rights and environmental abuses. Much progress has been made addressing those abuses, but much remains to be done. One need look no further than the horrors of the diamond fields of Zimbabwe or the threatened destruction of Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay salmon fishery by mine development to understand the challenges that remain.
For Tiffany & Co., devoted to creating objects of lasting beauty to celebrate the most important moments of our customers’ lives, such abuses – however remote from our own supply chain – clearly represent a fundamental business risk. Our brand is built upon trust, integrity and consumer confidence, and an implicit but critical part of our brand promise is that the precious jewelry we design and craft was sourced and created ethically and responsibly.
In order to be certain we deliver on that promise, over the past 15 years Tiffany & Co. has pursued a strategy of vertical integration unprecedented and unmatched in the jewelry industry. We manufacture the majority of our jewelry and cut and polish our diamonds in Tiffany’s own workshops that are the finest in the world. Nearly all of our packaging and paper is sourced from sustainably managed forests. And our long-term objective – against which we have made much progress – is within reach: to identify the mine source of our precious metals and diamonds so that we can assure ourselves and our customers that those precious materials have been extracted ethically and responsibly.
Beyond our own supply chain, we have also recognized that the power of the Tiffany brand within the luxury space provides us with the opportunity and the responsibility to address the broader challenges facing the jewelry industry. Clearly, lack of consumer confidence in the jewelry supply chain has implications for Tiffany, however confident we may be in our own efforts. And so we believe there is a business imperative, as well as a moral imperative, to engage with civil society, government, our industry colleagues, and industry associations to address these issues. To that end, we continue to seek more effective regulation of mining activities on federal lands here in the United States and a fair return to taxpayers for the privilege of mining those lands. We have opposed mine development in places of special cultural and ecological value, and pledged never to source materials from those mines. We are working to establish a global certification system for mining that includes not just industry, but civil society as full partners in the process. We do not source diamonds and precious metals from areas of conflict, including the DRC and Zimbabwe.
Despite the progress we have made, our efforts have not been without disappointment. The diamond supply chain, overall, is significantly better than 10 years ago. However, the Kimberly Process, the global framework created to address the horrors of conflict diamonds, is still in need of important change. Federal mining law reform remains elusive after 20 years of trying. A global mining certification system is still a work in progress.
But in the 15 years since we first protested the development of a gold mine that threatened Yellowstone National Park, a sea change has slowly but surely been taking place in the jewelry world. Our engagement with social and environmental NGOs, once seen by many in our industry as quixotic if not dangerous, is now acknowledged as a prudent recognition of a critically important group of stakeholders. Investors who were once indifferent now applaud our sustainability efforts. Employees who were at first puzzled by new demands placed upon them now speak with pride of our accomplishments. Board members once only broadly aware of our sustainability efforts now enthusiastically encourage us. Perhaps most importantly, customers with little or no interest in the conditions under which our precious gemstones and metals were mined and crafted are now anxious to understand how their purchases intersect with the world around them.
And while we deeply believe in the moral imperative to act responsibly, we also understand that if we do not concern ourselves with the impact of our activities on the natural world and upon the communities in which we work, Tiffany & Co. will be unable to deliver another critical part of our brand promise - to leave behind a world every bit as beautiful and complete as the one we inherited.
Michael J. Kowalski is Chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Co.