Despite being one of the most popular gifts for a loved one on Valentine’s Day, jewelry has been notorious for coming at a social and environmental cost that goes well beyond the price tag. Now Signet, the world’s largest jewelry retailer, is being challenged by social and environmental groups across the world to demand that its major diamond and gold supplier, Rio Tinto, clean up its act this Valentine’s Day. International activist groups including IndustriALL Global Union, London Mining Network, Earthworks and LabourStart are teaming up to put pressure on Signet to demand the multinational mining company to ensure its practices respect the environment, worker rights and indigenous peoples.
The National Retail Federation estimates that the always-lucrative Valentine’s Day will see 21 percent of US shoppers will buy their loved ones jewelry, generating sales of nearly US$5 billion. Signet — which accounts for over US$6 billion annually with 1,400 Kay and Jared jewelry shops in the US, 1,600 Zales stores across the US and Canada, and 500 H. Samuel and Ernest Jones shops in the UK market — therefore has significant industry bargaining power with its suppliers.
The coalition of activist groups has called upon Signet to take harder action on its own Responsible Sourcing Policy, which states it’s “committed to the responsible sourcing of our products and the respect of human rights, and we expect the same from our suppliers around the world.” The company also endorsed — alongside more than 100 international jewelry retailers — the No Dirty Gold campaign’s Golden Rules for more responsible mining back in 2006. This endorsement commits Signet to pressuring its suppliers into complying with the Rules, which are based on broadly accepted international human rights laws and basic principles of sustainable development.
Rio Tinto has amassed a poor track record with regards to labor rights, environmental protection and community engagement. The recent reports Rio Tinto and ‘Direct Engagement’ and Unsustainable: The ugly truth about Rio Tinto describe, respectively, the company’s campaigns to undermine key workers’ rights, and its abuse of the environment and the communities in which it operates.
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London Mining Network coordinator Richard Solly said: "Rio Tinto has a long history of violating indigenous peoples' land rights, dividing communities, polluting land and water, and attacking unions. There are continuing real concerns about the human and environmental impacts of its copper and gold mining operations at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia, and at Grasberg in Papua, where its violations of indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental destruction led the Norwegian Government’s state pensions fund to disinvest.”
The Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) has provided certification for Rio Tinto for its operations, however Earthworks has called the integrity of the accrediting organisation into question. Not an independent group, the RJC is governed by industrial players, with the exclusion of labor communities and civil society. Its certification process is not transparent either, with no public access to information on whether a certified company complies with RJC’s own requirements or international social and environmental standards.
“Until Rio Tinto drastically changes its ways, the company will sully the reputations of all its major business partners. Signet is no exception,” commented IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Jyrki Raina. “Signet says that its involvement in non-independent business-run social auditing programmes is a sufficient response to our concerns. This is insulting to all those affected by Rio Tinto’s anti-social conduct, not least Signet customers. With such high sales figures during the month of February for jewelry retailers, the activist groups see no better time than now to pressure Signet into pushing the mining company for more ethical practices.”
Speaking of ethical Valentine’s gifts, US nationwide floral directory Slow Flowers is attempting to kneecap the 1-800-teleflorists that fill 98 percent of domestic orders with imported flowers — the company is encouraging romantics to instead use its directory of roughly 500 florists across the US that are committed to sourcing their flowers domestically for Valentine’s Day this year.