Fiona Solomon: India and Asia are in the focus of RJC

Olga Patseva

Solomon Fiona (Fiona Solomon), Director of Standards Development at the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) gave an exclusive interview to Rough&Polished and told about the main activities of this organization and its achievements in the past year and prospects for 2015.

How was the year of 2014 for the Responsible Jewellery Council?

We had many new certifications in 2014, with more than 500 audits now conducted since the RJC program opened. We also netted around 100 new members since the end of 2013. We are finding that newer members usually come in with a much better understanding about what the standard involves, so they usually progress to achieving certification much more quickly. Overall, it was a very busy year in terms of the audits that are going on, supporting members and doing the processing on our side.

Congratulations on reaching an important milestone – 500 Members! What is your next goal?

Obviously, we want to continue growth so as to grow RJC’s impact in the jewellery sector. We have had in the order of between 10% and 20% growth every year and we would like to see that continue. We are very focused on a few markets in particular at the moment.

We have been really working on outreach and relationships with the diamond industry in India. Likewise, RJC has been looking at China and Hong Kong, particularly on the manufacturing side.  Sector-wise, we are also focusing on the mining side, particularly for gold.

We co-hosted a responsible gold forum in Lima, in Peru, with the London Bullion Market Association, in November 2014. We brought in representatives from local government, local industry, across the supply chain with a particular focus on mining and gold refining. Through various panel sessions and events, we were really trying to raise awareness of what opportunities there are through standards like RJC, and the changing market expectations from downstream customers for responsible practices in mining and refining.

We have had a big uptake this year in our gold refining sector, with a lot of new members joining and taking up Сhain-of-Custody certification. Refiners are very much at the centre of the ‘due diligence’ push, to reach back into mining companies and suppliers and understand practices, not just around conflict, but increasingly around environmental and social issues as well.

The Conflict Minerals legislation seems to be one of the main drivers for refiners starting the certification process.

That is definitely right. That has come from refiners themselves wanting to demonstrate their due diligence practices, or customers saying they need assurance from refiners.

It will be interesting to see where these drivers take the industry.  Once you set up a system for an issue like conflict, it opens up to a means to assess other risks in these supply chains. Can we use these same systems to address those as well? That is where the RJC standard is already very comprehensive and tries to address a wide range of risks beyond conflict, environmental, social, human rights and industry-specific issues.

Companies have started on very complex, responsible, sourcing questions because of requirements to publicly report.  The legislation has got people over that initial hump. I know electronics companies, for example, that have worked hard on their disclosure requirements under Dodd Frank and are now looking to broaden the scope of questions that they are asking. That, I think is a very interesting and much longer term development that has come out of the legislation.

This year the RJC has been focusing a lot on India, as well as China and Hong Kong. In your opinion, which industry is more engaged at the moment?

Definitely, the Indian diamond trade is more engaged and tend to be very knowledgeable about the RJC standards.  We actually have 56 members in India. and have held a number of very detailed training sessions there. About 10% of our members are headquartered in India so they are already a sizable participation in our global membership. India is a place where they are used to working within a very bureaucratic legislative environment, so they are very focused on the detail of what’s in the standards and making sure that they do it right.

Whereas in Hong Kong, RJC has been mainly working through the Hong Kong jewelry shows to raise awareness. It is still at a very early stage, although we do have a number of Members that have certified facilities in China.

Do you have any employees working in China, in Hong Kong, or in India on a permanent basis to raise awareness and to promote the benefits of the RJC certification?

Not at this stage, but we have budgeted to put on someone in India within the next six months. We will also be looking at someone similarly, probably in Hong Kong, as well, with the same model in future. It is very important to have that local representation but the challenge always, of course, is the resources.

Do you think that retailers should consider providing some additional incentives for RJC members to encourage achievement of the highest level of compliance through the certification?

There are certainly companies in different parts of the supply chain that are looking at benefits and incentives. Some companies have RJC Certification as a consideration in awarding contracts or maybe is an expectation that they have around who they work with, because they are looking for assurance around supply chain risks. RJC does not get involved in trading relationships or related decisions between its Members, because we have to comply with anti-trust legislation in both Europe and the U.S. We cannot be putting in place a standard that requires RJC members to trade with each other, as that is illegal.

In July, the RJC released its first Impacts Report ”Building Responsible Jewellery Supply Chains”. Did anything surprise you as you gathered information for the report?

I think one of the things that surprised me was the growth in refiners. It doubled from 2012 to 2013. I felt that we were getting a lot of new refiners in, and then when I sat down and looked at the stats, it was great to see that was the case.

Will there be the second Impacts Report in 2015?

Definitely. Now it is an annual commitment that we will do. We have some research to undertake for this year, including a survey about demand for RJC certifications, and research on India implementation and mining in Peru.

Another big change for you last year – the appointment of a new CEO, Ashish Deo. In which direction will he be taking the RJC and the team?

I do not think there is any dramatic change of direction at a Board strategy level. I think India remains a focus, as well as Asia.

What are your plans for 2015?

Last year was a transition year for us, as we were accepting certifications for both versions of the Code of Practices (2009 and the recent 2013 revision). In 2015 we are really buttoning down on the 2013 COP Version, and making sure that everybody’s across that. We are also looking to ramp up some of our training and capacity building around issues such as human rights. This will look to support and extend those who have achieved certification, to start thinking about what’s next for best practice. This will include RJC providing a platform for bringing people together to talk about new approaches, new questions that are emerging. We will be focusing on improving our systems, and improving the value we deliver to our members and stakeholders.

Source Rough&Polished