The group pushing to unite the trade on sustainability – WJI2030

Rachael Taylor

Climate action is key for the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, says executive director Iris Van der Veken.

Iris Van der Veken is no stranger to making waves in the jewelry industry. In her three-year tenure as executive director of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), she was a high-profile champion of change as a passionate campaigner for improving human rights, equality and sustainability throughout the supply chain. Then Russia invaded Ukraine.

Many in the industry instantly spoke out against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war and were supportive of sanctions on Russian products — including diamonds from miner Alrosa, in which the Russian Federation holds a 33% stake. In light of the events, Alrosa chose to suspend its own RJC membership, but it was never ejected officially. As the world rallied, the RJC — and Van der Veken by association — was silent on the issue.

The distaste was palpable. As Brad Brooks-Rubin, who served at the time as the RJC’s strategic adviser for North America, posted on LinkedIn: “The decisions (or more specifically, the lack thereof) from the RJC regarding this company [Alrosa] and overall crisis so far are insufficient.

Brooks-Rubin and the RJC parted ways, and members including Pandora, Richemont and Watches of Switzerland Group pulled out. Behind the scenes, Van der Veken was said to be frustrated, with Rapaport reporting that she’d handed in her resignation within weeks of Russia’s invasion. She officially left her position on March 29.

Van der Veken could have been forgiven for turning her back on the jewelry industry after such a tumultuous episode, but by July, she was back in a new role as executive director and secretary-general of the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030 (WJI2030). Luxury group Kering and Richemont-owned Cartier founded the organization in late 2021 to bring members of the industry together to work toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to be “a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030, all people enjoy peace and prosperity.”

Doing the work

Van der Veken is keen to point out that the WJI2030 is not a certification body like the RJC, but a working group. That doesn’t mean it takes its work any less seriously, though.

We are shaping a collective roadmap through multi-stakeholder engagement for 2030 on three important topics that are at the heart of the 2030 sustainability agenda: climate resilience, preserving resources, and inclusiveness. We are also building milestones along the journey, which we commit to, and everybody has to, of course, report on progress,” she says via video call from her office in Geneva’s Maison de la Paix building — a 10-minute walk from the UN building in the Swiss city.

The WJI2030 had an auspicious start, with big names like Cartier, Boucheron, Chanel and Gucci as founding members. In September, it announced a second round of members that included not just brands, but suppliers such as diamond producer Dimexon.

We embarked on our [environmental, social and governance (ESG)] roadmap journey in early 2021,” says Dimexon director Rajiv Mehta. “Having committed to setting in place the foundation for developing a strategy around a sustainable future, we came across the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, which really encouraged and inspired us. Specifically, there was significant alignment of goals, which led us to partner with the WJI2030.

The group plans to expand its membership to all types of companies in the trade, says Van der Veken, noting the recent acceptance of the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) as a member. “It’s an open application [process],” she says, sharing that there are now about 30 members. “Sometimes people come and say, ‘I’m a small enterprise, can I really join?’ Yes, of course. We want to be inclusive. But it’s really important that the commitments [members make] are serious, and you will have to report.”

Might some companies see the illustrious membership list and sign up in the hope of getting the kudos without doing the work? That won’t be an option, declares Van der Veken: “We will have a data platform and monitoring mechanism for that.”

There is also a financial obligation. To join the WJI2030, companies must pledge 0.004% of annual relevant sales, with a minimum threshold of about $500 and a cap of about $69,000.

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Source Rapaport

Photos © Courtesy of the WJI, Charl Folscher – Unsplash.