What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Ethical’ Sourcing?

EditorsMar 25, 2019

What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Ethical’ Sourcing?

One group wants to define key supply chain terms, and they are looking to the industry for input on how to do it.

A group formed during the first Jewelry Industry Summit now wants to define key supply chain terms, like ethical, sustainability and Fairtrade, and get the industry’s feedback on them. (Photo credit: Gem Legacy)

The conversation around “responsible sourcing,” “ethical supply chains” and whatever other buzzwords you might want to use to talk about transparency in the supply chain is here to stay.

There’s a plethora of conferences, panels at trade shows and other initiatives that back that up.

Tucson 2019 was no different.

However, when I returned from this year’s trip to the desert, another element was becoming clear to me: The industry is at a point where it risks having too many different conversations and too many different meanings for these terms, possibly creating more confusion than clarity.

I ended my post-Tucson observations blog post with this point because I wanted it to stick.

Luckily for me, that article got in front of the right people. Just hours after it was published, someone working with a group to address this very issue contacted me.

Emily Phillippy, the designer behind Emily Chelsea Jewelry, has been heading up a group working to establish industry-accepted definitions for several supply chain-related words.

Joining Phillippy are Jared Holstein and Jay Moncada of diamond and colored stone wholesaler Perpetuum Jewels, Erin Daily of Brooklyn Metalworks, sustainable jewelry consultant Christina Miller and designer Olivia Suffern of Olivia Marie Handcrafted Adornment.

What started as the Education Initiative during the first Jewelry Industry Summit in 2016 evolved into the Jewelry Glossary Project after they realized they were asking themselves, Phillippy said, “How can we educate anyone if we do not even have a shared set of definitions for the terms we are using?”

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So, they shifted their focus to eliminating ambiguity in key jewelry terms.

At first the list was long, but eventually they narrowed it down to a smaller group of words they thought were “most important, most used, most relevant and usually most confusing,” Phillippy said.

Then they went to work defining them in a way that can be used across all sectors of the industry.

To do this, the group referenced common use, domestic and international legal documents, and standards pertaining to jewelry or its components.

“We spent a lot of time on each word,” Phillippy said, “then we went back and spent a lot of time again on each word.”

The biggest challenge? Keeping opinion out if of it, according to Phillipy.

“We wanted to keep them as simple as possible, but it’s really hard to simplify when
there’s so much we want to say.”

This is why the Jewelry Glossary Project group also added explanations to go along with some of the definitions, to tack on pertinent notes on usage or examples.
“How can we educate anyone if we do not even have a shared set of definitions for the terms we are using?”—Jewelry designer Emily Phillippy
So far, the jewelry glossary defines 10 words: ethical, recycled, post-consumer recycled, pre-consumer recycled, sustainability, conflict-free diamond, Fairmined, Fairtrade, Fair Trade Certified and fair trade.

Now, the group wants feedback on its definitions from the trade and is doing so via a survey.

“We want these to be the industry-wide accepted definitions so that we can all communicate in the same way,” Phillippy said. “That’s our biggest goal: that we can all understand when we’re talking retailer to wholesaler, and retailer to consumer.”

The group is opening to adding to and changing the list; Phillipy said they consider it to be an “ever-changing document.”

“As times change, as meanings change, as new technology becomes available, the definitions might change as well.”

They presented their definitions at this year’s Jewelry Industry Summit, where some trade members also suggested a few other words be added to the list, including: transparency, traceability, social responsibility/corporate responsibility, economic sustainability, social sustainability and environmental sustainability.

The group hasn’t yet started defining those. For now, the focus is on the initial 10.

Eventually, they do want the glossary to live on its own website and be independent—not affiliated with any one organization—and be accessible for all businesses and trade groups to reference or share.

For now, though, the group is still working on its marketing plan, Phillipy said, and their next steps also will include figuring out how they will disseminate the glossary to the industry and consumers alike.
Brecken Branstratoris the senior editor, gemstones at National Jeweler, covering sourcing, pricing and other developments in the colored stone sector.

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