Interview with Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chief Sustainability Officer at Tiffany & Co.: “In the absence of meaningful regulations and rule of law, business must increasingly take a leadership role around global challenges”

Ana Zbona, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), Apr 2017

Anisa Kamadoli Costa [personal archive]

Tiffany & Co., a leader in the luxury industry, recognizes the opportunity to influence culture and set the standards for excellence in the entire industry. An example of this was the action Tiffany & Co. took in support of Rafael Marques, a renowned Angolan journalist who faced years in jail for exposing human rights abuses in the Angolan diamond mining industry - even though Tiffany & Co. does not even source from Angola. While many other companies have a policy of not commenting on situations where there is no clear connection to their operations, Tiffany & Co. felt it was important to defend Rafael Marques. We interviewed Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chief Sustainability Officer at Tiffany & Co. and Chairwoman and President of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, to find out what motivated this action and about her views on the importance of a strong civil society for a healthy business environment.

BHRRC: What does a strong civil society contribute to a healthy business environment and why are civic freedoms important for a company like yours? What can your company and similarly minded companies be doing to educate key constituencies - be it governments, other companies or investors - about the significance of civil society and the importance of it being able to operate in an ‘enabling environment’?

Anisa: At Tiffany & Co., we know that a strong civil society contributes a great deal in today’s business environment. Business is not simply about a single stakeholder and the bottom line—civil society rounds out perspectives and helps to guide what responsible businesses do.

I’m proud that we welcome the opinions and concerns of many different groups—including those that challenge us. We engage with a broad range of groups whose diverse viewpoints are critical to helping us advance best practices related to supply chain management and responsible mining. Each contributes in a unique way: Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) provide meaningful feedback and best practices, and a push to companies that need one; industry groups help ensure we collectively influence the industry beyond just our company; and engagements with mining companies help us identify and address environmental and social issues in our sector.

We believe this benefits our Company’s operations and positively influences the jewelry industry and our partners along our supply chain. When it comes to certification, we place significant value on third-party systems. NGOs, communities and others deserve an equal seat at the table alongside industry. We’ve been advocating for this because we believe it will lead to stronger, more credible standards.

Rafael Marques de Morais

BHRRC: As a leader in the luxury industry, you recognize the opportunity you have to influence culture and set the standards for excellence in your entire industry. Tiffany & Co. supported Rafael Marques, a renowned Angolan journalist who faced years in jail for exposing human rights abuses in the Angolan diamond mining industry, even though the company does not source from Angola. Many other companies have a policy of not commenting on situations where there is no clear connection to their operations. Why did Tiffany & Co. feel it was important to defend Rafael Marques?

Anisa: Yes, that’s correct – while we don’t source from Angola, Tiffany and The Tiffany & Co. Foundation strive to address the most pressing issues facing the diamond supply chain, and Rafael Marques was exposing conditions that concerned us. As a leader in the luxury industry, we felt that we had a responsibility to speak out about the importance of a global diamond supply chain free from human rights abuses.

Transparency into global supply chains, brought to light by journalists and other human rights defenders, is critical to reducing human rights abuses.

Today, a company’s stakeholders, including investors, recognize that what happens at the first step of the supply chain can affect your brand and your bottom line. This is true for most commodities, whether diamonds or palm oil or seafood. Transparency into global supply chains, brought to light by journalists and other human rights defenders (HRDs), is critical to reducing human rights abuses.

BHRRC: We recently launched the Corporate Human Rights Benchmark (CHRB). In it, the 41 largest extractives companies in the world were assessed against the CHRB’s extractives criteria and while there were some bright exceptions, their overall score was a disappointing 29%. Tiffany does not mine diamonds itself, but you have direct supply agreements with particular mines or suppliers. How do you ensure your suppliers uphold the same high standards that you have?

Anisa: We continue to support the development of strong, rigorous standards for responsible mining at the large scale and artisanal level. And beyond the mining sector, frameworks like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) as well as the Sustainable Development Goals help to provide additional tools and guidance. 

Global frameworks and voluntary standards are necessary to lift the entire industry up.  There is also a need for constant education within companies so everyone that has a touch point along the supply chain understands human rights and how their role can influence responsible practices. This really begins with the CEO communicating the importance of human rights to employees and suppliers.

BHRRC: Related to that, consumer-facing industries, including yours, seem to be more forward thinking when it comes to advocating for human rights and taking concrete steps to safeguard them. We saw in the CHRB that the only companies with policies on HRDs were in the apparel industry and yours is one of the few companies that chose to speak up for an HRD. How can non-consumer-facing industries be motivated to act?

Anisa: Beyond the moral imperative to do what is right, we believe there is increasing demand for companies to address human rights in their operations in order to have a social license to operate, whether consumer facing or not. All companies have customers, and customers care – whether they are individual consumers or companies.

Investors increasingly also place a priority on Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. In fact, a report by MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group showed that 75% of investment executives believe ESG performance is materially important to investment decisions. 

Responsible businesses benefit in the long term from a strong civil society, whether consumer-facing or not.

Mining in Eastern Congo

BHRRC: You are an integral part of the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining, which is targeted at industrial-scale mines. It is encouraging that IRMA now mentions civil society and HRDs as sources of expert advice and credible independent experts. What was the process of integrating this language into IRMA like and how do you think IRMA, once fully in effect, will impact the situation of HRDs focusing on the mining sector, which are the most negatively impacted of all HRDs working for corporate accountability, according to our database of attacks?

Anisa: IRMA was built on a multi-stakeholder process, including sectors who have long been champions and advocates of human rights—specifically NGOs and communities affected by mining. Because these sectors have played such an integral role in setting the IRMA Standard, the protection of human rights has been front and center in its creation. 

When it is implemented, IRMA will offer a platform for HRDs to be heard—as stakeholders during the third-party audit process and also through the grievance mechanism once a mine has achieved certification.

Human Rights Watch recently joined IRMA Steering Committee as a representative of the NGO sector, and First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining has also joined to represent affected communities. Both organizations have a history of defending and advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable communities. By including such vocal and experienced groups at IRMA’s table—and ensuring they have an equal seat at that table—we believe all interested parties potentially impacted by mining are represented, and ultimately safeguarded.

BHRRC: Tiffany declines to buy stones from countries with widely reported human rights abuses, such as Angola, the DRC, and Zimbabwe, even though they are part of the Kimberley Process. In a recent interview you said that you don’t believe the answer is to simply exclude countries outright. How do you make the decision to exclude a country? What should such countries do to become sourcing countries for you?

Anisa: This is certainly not a decision we take lightly. As we all know, in the absence of meaningful regulations and rule of law, business must increasingly take a leadership role around global challenges. It is done on a case by case basis. We value transparency, anti-corruption efforts and free press. However, in some cases, the absence of strong rule of law creates an environment that we do not believe we can responsibly source from.

BHRRC: California Transparency in Supply Chains Act (SB657): Does it help to level the playing field and bring actors on the same page? Arguably, the more transparent supply chains are, the more HRDs will demand abuses that are revealed are prevented and remedied. How to make sure more transparency doesn’t result in further crackdown on HRDs?

Anisa: Yes, we do believe that legislation such as the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act and others do help to level the playing field. However, some companies embrace the intent more than others. 

If businesses, NGOs and local communities continue to advocate on behalf of HRDs, coupled with regulation, it is my hope that we will create a culture where this sort of transparency is the rule and not the exception.

Tiffany and other leading businesses are already working to achieve transparency and traceability in complex, global supply chains. This is a challenge that cuts across sectors.

If businesses, NGOs and local communities continue to advocate on behalf of HRDs, coupled with regulation, it is my hope that we will create a culture where this sort of transparency is the rule and not the exception.

We believe that the existence of regulation that addresses sourcing practices provides an important framework for industry, laying the foundation for the protection of human rights and responsible sourcing efforts.