What Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co can teach us about CSR

Marianne Riou

CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, is—we’re sure you will agree—very much in vogue. And the diamond industry is no exception, which is good news as it goes! Signet and Tiffany have in recent weeks been the focus of attention for their ethics and their commitment. Which gives us the opportunity to think about what consumers make of our CSR practices and how we can improve their opinion.

For it to be such a hot topic, CSR clearly is no longer just a matter for specialists, journalists and big brands. The necessity of understanding and winning over Generation Y—which chooses or recommends brands due to their “socially responsible” acts and undertakings—has made brands move their focus to CSR policies. This can only be a good thing, as economic constraints and chasing profits have a far greater chance of promoting the cause than depending on good intentions towards the planet or others.

Signet and Tiffany, as you may have read on this site, found themselves center stage with regard to ethics and ecology—in the USA at least. As they are both amongst the biggest jewelry retailers and fine jewelry houses in the world—and the American market is still the main market for diamond jewelry—this is clearly an interesting subject.

Signet Jewelers has found itself in trouble with the law, which is damaging its image. Even though it has a long-standing commitment, according to Rapaport, to favor ethical and social purchasing for its jewelry: “Signet, the largest jewelry retailer in the US, has made great strides in advancing responsible sourcing for the jewelry supply chain — strides that the recent negative publicity has overshadowed.” 

Tiffany Climate statementAs for Tiffany & Co, it is a note to Mr. Trump, published on May 9 on its Facebook page, that has been making headlines. On the blue background that is so familiar to the brand’s fans, we can read: Dear President Trump, We’re still in for bold climate action. Please keep the U.S. in the Paris Climate Agreement. The disaster of climate change is too real, and the threat to our planet and to our children is too great.” 

There were many extremely virulent reactions from subscribers on the Facebook page, both for and against this ecological standpoint. Even for a company like Tiffany that is “still in for bold action for the climate“, this declaration is not anodyne. It is not every day that a big company takes a stand against their country’s leader, particularly in an area that is not the center of its business area! I imagine that Tiffany’s communication is strictly controlled, so the risk of a polemic must have been taken into consideration?

The interest of these two cases is that they make us think and ask ourselves about our own companies’ practices in the area of social responsibility. And maybe lead us to make some changes…

Here is what we could perhaps learn with regard to our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies and the image that they send out:

–       We can no longer reasonably avoid having a CSR policy that is worthy of the name . It matters to consumers and influences their choices in terms of brands and purchasing.

–       Our actions and commitments in this field must be consistent, dependable and justifiable . We cannot risk losing consumers because our actions are deemed “confused”. Ideally, it would be better if our CSR policies relate to our business.

In the diamond industry this means: contributing to training and protecting artisanal miners, making a commitment to diamond producing countries to increase the standards of living of their populations, compensating for the ecological impact of mining, etc.

–       Communication about the CSR actions that are taken by our companies is fundamental and must be perfectly controlled . It serves two purposes: explaining and justifying our undertakings and, more prosaically, giving a positive image of our companies and supporting the good reputation that we have with our customers.

–       Regardless of the quality of our actions, regardless of the honesty of our commitment, one false step—no matter how small—could cost us a great deal . We would find it hard to regain our reputation if it took a hit in any way.

–       We should expect passionate reactions if our commitments reach the general public : for or against, praiseworthy or critical—the comments will certainly not be neutral, this is something people feel passionate about!

–       We should prepare written media , reports with figures, tools to check on our suppliers, proof of responsible sourcing, details of our methods and procedures, labels, etc. that clearly explain our commitment to CSR.

–       In our sector, the diamond industry—which is so poorly known by the general public and victim to so many misconceptions—one error in judgment by any one of us in defining our CSR policy could have a great effect on the whole chain and make it even more fragile…

–       Finally, regardless of the progress made with CSR, let us be honest and transparent about its status for all the reasons given above.

“Easier said than done” you say? Certainly. The current trend hides one of the biggest difficulties with implementing our CSR policies: it is long-term work.  In the meantime, let us draw inspiration from the practices of others who have had a head start in the area…

See also:

Pleading Signet’s CSR case, Rapaport (May 12, 2017)

Tiffany & Co.’s note to Trump sparks public support, outrage, Emili Vesilind, JCK Online (May 14, 2017)

Photo © Tiffany’s website, Signet’s website, Tiffany&Co Foundation, Signet, DR.