All over the world, gold and diamond mining are risky operations, and sometimes people and the environment are harmed in the process. For over a decade, Human Rights Watch has documented child labor, environmental destruction, and violence by government security forces or armed groups against civilians in the context of gold and diamond mining. Under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility to identify, address, and prevent human rights abuses in their supply chains, and to report publicly about their efforts.
We wanted to know what jewelry companies are doing to avoid abuses when they sought gold and diamonds for the jewelry they sold, so we and investigated 15 well-known jewelry brands in the US, Europe, and Asia. Mikimoto, the Japan-based luxury jeweler best known for its beautiful pearls, was one of those companies. The privately held company reportedly had US$256 million revenue in 2019.
But when we asked Mikimoto about their practices, we met a wall of silence.
When we contacted the company in 2019 to explain our work and learn about Mikimoto’s gold and diamond sourcing practices, the company encouraged us to send our questions in writing. We did, but they never responded, despite several attempts to contact them. For a consumer who wants to buy abuse-free products, that it not helpful. Mikimoto’s website has very little information to inform the wider public about whether it is taking steps to make sure that the human rights of the people who mine its gold and diamonds are respected.
Transparency is an essential part of a company’s human rights responsibilities—it means that companies need to account for how they make sure that their beautiful jewelry doesn’t begin with ugly abuse of the workers who supply them. Access to such information can help assure customers that the jewelry they buy is not tainted by human rights abuses, like child or slave labor or violence by security forces. Knowing details about a company’s supply chain and how it identifies human rights risks can also help consumers understand how companies spot abuses in their supply chains and how or whether they intervene to stop them.
When we recently assessed the sourcing practices of 15 global jewelry and watch brands, we found that several companies had taken steps to become more transparent. For example, the Danish jewelry company Pandora has decided to publicly identify its diamond supplier, and the UK company Boodles has published information about its efforts, including its human rights requirements for suppliers and its decision to exclude five countries from its supply chain based on human rights abuses in those countries. Overall, 10 of the 15 companies we assessed now publish information on what they do to ensure respect for human rights in their supply chain.
Mikomoto’s secrecy does not meet international norms and standards on best business practice, and diverges from the industry trend. When companies do not disclose any information about their practices, it becomes impossible for those affected to assess their actions.
We wish Mikimoto would reveal publicly what policies and practices it has in place to trace its gold and diamonds, and to find and respond to human rights risks. That would be better for the company, consumers, and most important, for the people in the places where they get their gold and diamonds. Less opaque business practices would let the jewels sparkle even brighter.