The Shakespearean Acting of The Responsible Jewelry Counsel (RJC) and the Alliance For Responsible Mining (ARM). Comic or Tragic?
Marc Choyt, Director of Fair Jewelry Action USA, muses on current events and responds to letters from ARM and RJC.
In June and July over a hundred and fifty jewelers and civil society members signed the Fair Jewelry Action (FJA) and Ethical Metalsmiths (EM) letter to the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) and Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). The signatures, many of them current Fairtrade and Fairmined license and stakeholders as well as RJC members, sought clarity on ARM’s position in context to their relationship with the RJC.
For many pioneers in the ethical jewelry movement, our open letter came as a surprise, particularly given our high regard for ARM’s work in championing responsible small-scale mining. Though small-scale and large-scale mining have opposing views, I was cautiously optimistic when an MOU was signed between ARM and the RJC. The radical center is where the greatest progress happens. This relationship has the potential to bring great benefit for the ethical jewelry movement.
The response from ARM and RJC, however, did not address the critical questions rightly raised by the signees. We were concerned about mass balancing, or mixing of gold from responsible and irresponsible sources, as well as assuring access to the supply chain of Fairtrade and Fairmined gold for small pioneer jewelers. If the replies had addressed these questions directly and honestly, we would have been satisfied. Ignoring the most critical points from so many jewelers heavily invested in Fairtrade gold was at best disconcerting, and at worst, institutionally arrogant.
ARM: Et Tu, Brute
It is both tragic and heartbreaking for many pioneers in the ethical jewelry movement that ARM has abdicated its position as a champion of the powerful alignment between small-scale miners and pioneer ethical jewelers (who happen to be both large and small).
There is a very high likelihood that ARM will move forward with their plans to mass balance gold from Fairtrade and Fairmined sources with RJC members. What ARM failed to realize is that Fairtrade and Fairmined gold label is a consumer facing brand. They have moved toward mass balancing without the involvement of their license holders and stakeholders. Decisions have been made in insular technical committees. Consequently, they have damaged their credibility and reputation with their grassroots base.
ARM’s failure to take into account the jewelers who have supported them and built the Fairmined and Fairtrade brand is a major betrayal of the heart of the ethical jewelry movement. I say “heart” intentionally. The pioneer artisan jewelers selling Fairtrade Fairmined gold represent the heart and the soul of this now international movement.
In claiming to act on behalf of “the miners,” ARM is also creating a wedge between the miners they claim to represent, and the small-scale jewelers. ARM’s claim that gold demand is not adequate to support the miners is a bogus argument. All the current certified miners are selling their gold regardless of whether it has a FT premium attached or not.
ARM’s push to mass balance does not consider that the lack of demand is due both to weak support for consumer facing marketing as well as the time and expense that it takes to build sustainable markets. For example, at present, there are insufficient funds available for the US market launch in FT/FM gold. The US market for Fairtrade gold will be significant and eventually will have a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of small scale miners around the world. Christina Miller from Ethical Metalsmiths and myself are personally spearheading a plan to bring FT/FM gold to the US market, an outcome of our Santa Fe dialog from last Oct. 2011. We are working as volunteers with no funding support.
What is slowing the process is a shortage of funding and a clarity of strategy. We need decisions to be based upon an altruistic leadership that builds the community of stakeholders based upon our common goal: to create jewelry that from mine to market benefits everyone who touches it.
RJC: Hamlet, The King and The Worm
One of the major critiques of large scale mining is that it does not engage beneficially with small scale mining. Now, that is no longer the case because ARM sits wearing white gloves and drinking something like Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac at the dining table with RJC.
Yes, we want the RJC to have integrity and fulfill its mission. Yes, we recognize that large-scale corporations have constraints that grass roots jewelers and producers do not. Yes, we want to engage and comment even if we feel that the comments we make will not make a difference. We wish them great success in their stated mission!
However it is difficult to accept that RJC’s mission to set standards for the jewelry sector is anything more an effort to justify the current practices of their most prominent members. Consider the documented international malfeasance of recently RJC certified Rio Tinto, called to task by the the London Mining Network. Rio Tinto is also being named in a lawsuit against their practices at their Kennecott mine by Wild Earth Guardians. The Kennecott mine I believe is the principle gold supplier for the Tiffany brand.
That RJC can certify as ethical a company that is not ethical is wrong, but not surprising. When it comes to ethics, the big boys make up the rules to suit their shareholders. Consider the deaths of the three million Africans whose deaths were funded by the supply of diamonds for engagement rings. No one was ever held accountable. Today, about fifteen percent of diamonds entering our supply chain are from areas of conflict or human rights abuse (Zimbabwe), except now they are labeled “conflict free” by the Kimberley Process that is publicly supported by the RJC.
We will not be complicit with those in our supply chain that find ways of justifying human rights abuse and environmental atrocity. We are not part of this consensus trance. We will let the public know with all the force that we have that dirty conflict child labor gold diamonds wars etc are NOT acceptable in our product.
Sooner or later, we will win this public relations war and ethical jewelry will become the norm, not the exception. We know that it is just a matter of time.
Seeing sideways into this situation makes me empathize with Shakespeare’s Hamlet—most particularly, Act 4, Scene 3, where his father, the King, asks him how a king may progress through the guts of a beggar.
To which Hamlet said: “A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.”
If RJC is the king, who is the fish and who is the worm?
What’s The Plan?
Corporate interests commonly attempt to co-opt and control ethical products with more robust standards than their own. Read this NY Times article from July 8th, 2012 which describes the undermining of organic food standards in the US. Large companies also seek to control ethical supply chains and squeeze out the small producers, which was another concern raised in our letter that was not addressed. Speaking of fish and worms, the UK company Tesco purchases the entire ethically sourced fish supply.
Gold symbolically represents warmth and radiance, spiritual light, essence and beauty. Gold also casts a long shadow. Decision makers in large gold mining companies are commonly willing to sell their souls in the quest for gold. Those who come in contact with large amounts of gold can find themselves entangled in a web of relationships like meth addicts, ending up caring only about their addiction.
In a few years, the ARM/RJC alliance scenario could look like this: a large scale-mining company or refiner buys up all the gold from Fairtrade Fairmined sources to mass balance and fairwash their traceable metal with dirty gold from another country and they can call it responsible.
Result: No Fairtrade gold for the market and any minimum price guarantee or premium paid.
Result: confusion in the market place and the erosion of the brand.
Arguably, it is in the economic interest of large-scale companies in the jewelry sector to dilute the FT/FM supply chain through mass balancing. Fairtrade and Fairmined gold is perhaps the greatest threat to the status quo, but its transformative power to change the whole industry rests on its purity.
But… FLO Co-Signed the Letter
Fair Labeling Organization (FLO) was a consignee of ARM’s letter. My understanding at the moment is that FLO does not wish to join RJC and ARM in mass balancing Fairtrade and Fairmined gold, but rather signed because FLO is in contractual agreement with ARM.
ARM is engaged to RJC, and FLO is married to ARM, so FLO is now obligated to “play around” with RJC? Where does that leave the rest of us? Obviously, any Fairtrade jeweler who has signed on with FLO are now in relationship (via ARM) with the RJC.
The question for concerned ethical jewelers is, do condoms offer enough protection?
Unfortunately, in this entangled web of (infidelity?) FLO (the owners of the International Fairtrade Label) now find their excellent brand and reputation at risk, because they have unwittingly been dragged into a compromising set of relationships by their current partner, ARM.
We hope that this (most uncomfortable to witness from the outside) semi-consensual ménage a trois will be disentangled when the contract between ARM and FLO expires at the end of the year… before it produces bastard children such as Fairtrade gold mass balanced with other gold.
In The Land of The Blind…
One solution, a slight of hand, might lead to All’s Well that Ends Well. Fairtrade (FLO) and Fairmined (ARM) could declare their two-year marriage over. ARM would then be free to go the way of mass balancing with RJC. Ethical jewelers would no longer be obligated to push the fairmined brand. FLO could then maintain the purity of the Fairtrade supply chain and work on offering the consumer a genuine choice.
All’s Well That Ends Well is considered a “problem play” by scholars because it defies classification. It is neither tragic nor comic. What we can be sure of is that right now, as Hamlet famously said, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” But we know that in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.