Regulations for Fair Trade Certified coffee, chocolate and even gold are fairly well-established but a corresponding set of rules for diamonds that is as comprehensive has not come about; many certifications are second-party systems that were initiated when industry groups came together to set a standard. One of the most extensive, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, was launched in 2003, laying down rules to control rough diamond production and trade, and prevent purchases from financing violence and rebel movements. But loopholes in the regulations mean enforcement is not guaranteed. And with estimates that a quarter of diamonds on the market are conflict-tainted, some jewellery houses are taking matters into their own hands.
Since leading efforts for US participation in the Kimberley Process and becoming a founding member of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, Tiffany & Co. has developed its own system for sustainable, ethical diamond production and woven those pillars into the brand’s DNA. Besides discontinuing purchases of gemstones from Myanmar in support of the US Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and cutting out the use of coral in jewellery to raise awareness for endangered reef communities, Tiffany & Co. established in 2002 its subsidiary Laurelton Diamonds to manage its worldwide supply chain and operate diamond cutting and polishing facilities in Mauritius, Vietnam, Cambodia, Botswana and Belgium. In 2015, the 180-year-old brand even hired its first chief sustainability officer, Anisa Kamadoli Costa, who seeks to elevate Tiffany’s approach to sustainability and fulfil its vision of sustainable luxury.
“Jewellery signifies so many important moments in life — our customers should expect quality and beauty, but that’s not the whole story,” she says. “They should know the platinum has been sourced ethically, the diamond mined responsibly, and the cutting and polishing contributed to community and development. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.”
Who are the company’s partners in responsible sourcing and production?
We work with environmental and human rights organisations, industry groups, suppliers and others to encourage broader changes across the industry to improve the lives of the miners whose work is so vital to our own. You need the NGOs and local communities to shape the standard and ensure it truly represents best practice, because the industry isn’t necessarily going to push itself.
How does Tiffany & Co. go beyond the demands of the Kimberley Process?
We source our diamonds with even greater respect for the environment and human rights, and we encourage others to follow suit. For example, though Angola and Zimbabwe are Kimberley Process–compliant, we have a zero-tolerance policy for diamonds sourced from these countries because of widely reported human rights abuses.
How does the company ensure standards are met at every stage of a diamond’s journey?
At our diamond workshops, we laser-inscribe every stone larger than 0.18cts with a microscopic code indicating its provenance, which helps us follow the diamond’s chain of custody. Knowing the origin of our precious metals and gemstones is key to ensuring that the mines we source from are operated in environmentally and socially responsible ways. That goes beyond where a diamond was unearthed, and continues throughout the journey of a diamond until it makes its way into the Blue Box.
What are some of the positive effects of the company’s sustainability efforts that have left an impression on you?
One was during a trip to Mauritius, where Tiffany owns and operates a diamond cutting and polishing facility. I met the local communities and saw how the company was keeping economic value within the country by hiring and training locally. I’m proud that we train people in the skilled craft of diamond cutting and polishing, provide a competitive living wage, and a great working environment across our global facilities.
I’ve also been moved by my several trips to the Bristol Bay region in Alaska to spend time with the native population and understand their perspective about a proposed gold and copper mine there. What I heard was that the local natural resources — the salmon water and streams — were richer in value to them than the mine was. We then used our voice to oppose the mine successfully.
What are the next sustainability goals Tiffany & Co. wants to achieve?
We want to continue to use the brand’s leadership in the luxury industry to speak out about critical issues. One of the ways you’ll see come to life this year is through the brand’s continued support of the Elephant Crisis Fund, building upon the success of the #knotonmyplanet campaign, which galvanises the fashion community to save African elephants from the ivory trade and threat of poachers.
From taking bold action on climate change to supporting organisations working to protect biodiversity and precious land and seascapes, we’ll continue to use the full power of the Tiffany brand to challenge the status quo, drive meaningful change and set the standard for sustainable luxury.