Promoting See-Through Transparency Is CriticalJanuary 10, 19
I was in an elevator in a hotel in Mumbai several years ago at the end of a conference when a well-known diamond industry figure walked in with a small entourage. "You know what the trouble is with transparency?" he asked. "You can see right through it." Seemed pretty amusing at the time; the entourage certainly enjoyed it.
Given the speed of developments in the industry, however, it seems today to be rather a feeble and irrelevant joke. I am sure that there are many other people who related to the need for responsible sourcing and transparent business operations with similar sarcasm. Doubtless there were many who hoped it would fade away, sort of like a passing fashion. I am equally sure that there are still many in the trade operating quietly and trying not to appear on the industry's radar who are not that interested in running transparent operations either.
There are companies which don't need credit facilities, and that allows them to continue running opaque operations. There are many others who need financing but who are not prepared to open up their books.
Unfortunately, it is this very opacity that is causing some of the trade's bankers to run away. This past week or so saw the latest setback, with India’s ICICI Bank withdrawing from diamond trade financing in Antwerp. After more than 12 years of operations in the Belgian diamond center, the bank has requested its clients to close their accounts before the end of February as its ICICI Bank UK plc branch will be shutting down on March 29.
ICICI's decision follows that of Union Bank of India to pull out of the Antwerp diamond center. Union Bank gave notice last September that it will close its branch in the Belgian port city within a year.
However, a statement this week by iconic jeweler Tiffany & Co that it plans to share information with consumers on a diamond’s complete journey through the supply chain - from mine to where it was cut and polished - by 2020 is a shot in the arm. Smaller firms are often encouraged by the steps taken by market leaders.
"Tiffany & Co. is committing to 100% geographic transparency for every newly sourced, individually registered diamond, and will not source any diamonds with unknown provenance (even if responsible sourcing is assured) moving forward," the firm said.
The jeweler says this is not a gimmick aimed at attracting much-needed Millennial customers who, surveys show repeatedly, have a deeper interest than other demographic groups in where products are made, whose making them, and in what conditions they are working. Let's take Tiffany & Co at its word.
More interesting, and creating more hope for the industry's future was the widespread media interest in the announcement. Not just the trade media, but large and important bodies such as The New York Times and Bloomberg News.
This is critical, because those reports are picked up, in whole or in part, and run by a vast number of media bodies. Unfortunately, The New York Times also mentioned: "More buyers are asking for specific evidence that their gems were not produced using child labor or to finance wars or terrorist activity — the concerns over so-called blood diamonds," as if this were still a hot issue and not something that has long since been put to bed via industry self-regulation.
The report also hints that it might just be a marketing ploy, saying: "Tiffany hopes to perk up interest in the brand with its program on sourcing."
On the other hand, the report states that the diamond and jewlery industry is pushing ahead with other efforts to track its supply chain, including blockchain, to provide a permanent, tamper-proof digital record of a gem’s journey.
It also mentions an initiative by IBM and a group of jewelry companies, including the retailer Helzberg, to look into blockchain as a way to trace the provenance of diamond and gold engagement rings. And that De Beers has signed Signet Jewelers up to a blockchain-based tracking program called Tracr, which will create digital mine-to-consumer records of diamonds.
Of course, there are other industry bodies moving to get in line with responsible sourcing and to become more transparent and promoting such activity which the mainstream media doesn't, unfortunately, know about. Nonetheless, the fact that the announcement by Tiffany is being widely reported should be seen in a very positive light.