The American Gem Trade Association (AGTA) has recently released a series of recommendations for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States, aiming to clarify the use of certain terms in the jewelry industry.
These recommendations, made public through the Jewelry Vigilance Committee (JVC), are intended to ensure consumer protection, uphold the integrity of the supply chain, and promote transparency in the industry.
The AGTA Industry Terms Committee
In January, AGTA unveiled a new committee with the goal of standardizing terms surrounding sustainability and ethics within the jewelry industry.
This committee, under the leadership of President Kim Collins, is responsible for drafting AGTA’s comments and recommendations for use in the FTC’s ‘Green Guides’.
Comprised of industry professionals, researchers, and gemological experts, the committee is well-positioned to provide meaningful guidance on industry terminology.
FTC Green Guides
The FTC Green Guides are designed to help businesses avoid making deceptive environmental claims, ensuring that marketing communications are transparent, accurate, and substantiated.
With sustainability and ethical practices increasingly important to consumers, these guidelines aim to play a vital role in protecting both businesses and customers.
AGTA’s recommendations to the FTC seek to clarify the use of specific terms in the jewelry industry. Key recommendations made include:
- Defining sustainability: The committee suggests using the widely accepted definition of “sustainable” as developed by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission in 1987.
- Clarifying “ethical”, “responsible”, and “conflict-free”: The AGTA urges the FTC to establish clear definitions for these terms to prevent misuse and ensure integrity throughout the supply chain.
- Preventing unsubstantiated environmental claims: The AGTA recommends issuing guidance to prevent companies from making unfounded environmental claims.
- Restricting the use of “recycled”: The AGTA suggests banning the use of the term “recycled” for all gem materials as well as certain metals, and instead use the term “recovered from electronic or e-waste” exclusively for recovered metals.
- Avoiding “never-mined” or “mining-free”: The committee recommends against the use of these terms when referring to gemstones and precious metals.
- Defining “carbon neutral”: The committee urges the FTC to allow the use of “carbon neutral” only with substantiation and to prohibit the term “carbon free” as the former more accurately reflects the carbon offsets being used by some companies.
The Importance of Clear Terminology
These recommendations come in response to a lack of existing legal definitions for certain terms, which has led to instances of “greenwashing” in the jewelry industry.
The committee has highlighted the overuse and misuse of terms like “ethical” and “responsible”, which often imply environmental and social benefits without providing specifics.
It has also expressed concern over the term “recycled”, which is frequently used to describe reused materials, leading to potential consumer misconceptions.
Several committee members have shared their perspectives on the recommendations, stressing the need for clear definitions, consumer protection, and industry-wide standards.
John Bradshaw, a gemstone cutter and gemologist, highlighted the need for shared understanding. “The committee was all in agreement to define terms like ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethics’,” he explained. “Who defines what these are right now? We developed some guidance for the FTC that is better than what is currently available, and we’ll eventually share some clear definitions with the membership that will put us all on the same page.”
Jaimeen Shah, Partner at Prima Gems USA, lauded the committee’s cooperative spirit. “This is the first time that gem dealers have sat down and worked together to produce guidelines like this,” he noted. “There was no overthinking, nothing was overly devised, it was the industry representing itself to create pure cohesive recommendations.“
Jenna White, a researcher with a focus on transparent and traceable jewelry supply chains, spoke about sustainability. “We urged the FTC to adopt the existing, generally accepted UN definition of sustainable,” she stated. “Our committee believes that colored gemstones can meet this definition, so there’s no need to reinvent the term.“
She also highlighted the problem with the term ‘recycled’. “We believe this term is being used to manipulate the consumer. To our knowledge, people generally are not throwing gems and precious metals into the trash. Therefore, recutting or resetting stones is not diverting anything from the waste stream nor decreasing the demand for newly mined materials.”
A UK Perspective
While these recommendations are aimed at the US FTC, they provide valuable insights for the UK jewellery trade industry.
The issues of sustainability, ethical sourcing, and responsible trade are global concerns, and the guidance provided by the AGTA committee can serve as a model for similar discussions in the UK.
As we strive for transparency and integrity in our industry, it’s essential to establish clear, universally accepted definitions for key terms and to ensure these terms are used correctly to prevent misunderstandings and promote ethical trade practices.