While we do our utmost as a business to leave the smallest possible footprint on the environment, we also always strive to do more. As such, we are proud supporters of IMPACT, a global organisation that works to improve how natural resources are managed where security and human rights are at risk.
Natalie Marie Jewellery donates 1% of total online sales to IMPACT to help to support the incredible work they do across Regulatory and Legal Reform, Supply Chain Transparency, Gender Equality, Illicit Trade and Financing and Environmental Stewardship.
Here we chat to Joanne Lebert, Executive Director of IMPACT, to delve deeper into the work that the organisation is doing.
Joanne Lebert is an anthropologist by training, frequent guest speaker, and strategic advisor to policymakers, private sector actors, and civil society organizations. As Executive Director of IMPACT (formerly Partnership Africa Canada), Joanne oversees the NGO's work on natural resource governance in areas where human rights and security are at risk such as Africa's Great Lakes Region & West Africa. Responsible sourcing and supply chain transparency involving high-value commodities such as 'blood' diamonds, 'conflict' gold, coltan and cobalt have also been a large focus of her work in recent years. This work has included investigating and exposing the drivers of illicit trade such as the role of trading nations including UAE and India. Joanne (like IMPACT) is committed to multi-stakeholder, inclusive and evidence-based approaches to addressing these global issues that fuel or sustain some of the world's most violent conflicts. She is also committed to integrating gender and environmental considerations as well as conflict analysis across all of IMPACT's work as well as its everyday operations.
NMJ: How did IMPACT come to be and what does your role within the organisation entail?
JL: IMPACT was initially called Partnership Africa Canada and started off as an organization that was responsible for managing funding from the Canadian government that was geared towards supporting civil society organizations across Africa. When that funding came to an end, our organization reinvented itself, with a specific focus on research as it began looking at the conflicts in West Africa, notably in Sierra Leone. Our research in this area was the first to link the use of proceeds generated by the trade in rough diamonds to the funding of armed groups that were carrying out egregious human rights violations. This is what led us down the path of addressing how natural resources are managed in areas where security and human rights are at risk.
In my role as Executive Director, I am responsible for the overall management and direction of the organization, ensuring that we are achieving our strategic vision and having a meaningful impact on the people that depend on or are directly affected by the way in which natural resources are managed in areas where security and human rights are at risk.
NMJ: A key focus of what you do supports those who suffer the effects and injustice of weak systems; how do you mobilize and challenge how natural resources are being managed within these organisations?
JL: Our theory of change is founded on a belief that responsible natural resource management requires local leadership and ownership to be lasting and meaningful. We also understand the importance and effectiveness of collaborating with allies to create or nurture political will when needed. Strong partnerships have been at the heart of our work for over three decades. We prioritize these relationships, strengthening our long-established collaborations, as well as developing new alliances to transform natural resource management in areas where security and human rights are at risk.
Beyond the local level, we also need to take a regional and global lens to look at natural resource systems and how they may or may not contribute to conflict and impede development. The drivers of conflict and illicit trade in minerals have important regional and global dimensions, that if left unaddressed, will render a lot of our efforts unsustainable. A great example are the efforts to break the link between the use of artisanal gold in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a source of financing for armed groups. While efforts at a national level are important, gold is currently smuggled into Rwanda and Uganda in significant quantities, making its way to Dubai, with little to no questions asked. This smuggled gold then finds its way into legal supply chains and into the jewellery market on a global scale. We need to address the weaknesses that are present in transit countries and global gold hubs like the UAE and India if we are going to make meaningful and far-reaching progress in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Our work makes explicit the need for vulnerable and disenfranchised people—for example women and indigenous peoples—to be empowered to participate and lead efforts to ensure responsible natural resource management. It is only by ensuring an inclusive, rights-based approach to natural resource management that all individuals will be able to benefit from them.
NMJ: How does the jewellery industry play a part of this?
JL: As a large consumer of precious metals and stones, the jewellery industry has a pivotal role to play in knowing their supply chains and ensuring that these are not having negative impacts on the people that are involved in their supply chain—whether these are the miners extracting minerals or the communities that surround them. But beyond that, as a key actor in the systems that often do contribute to harms or injustices to people in developing countries, the jewellery sector also needs to examine how it can rectify these imbalances and contribute to more equal and fair supply chains.
Jewellers need to ask important questions to their suppliers and ensure that their suppliers are doing the same for theirs, to ensure that the proper due diligence protocols are in place to keep conflict minerals out of their supply chains. Jewellers can also play a more proactive role in engaging with their suppliers to ensure that they are actually contributing to more positive development in the communities where their minerals are mined, be it large-scale mining or artisanal mining communities. As buyers of these materials, jewellers have a lot of leverage to promote progressive, meaningful change in the minerals industry.
NMJ: You have stated that mismanagement of natural resources highlights and, in many cases, fuels inequality. Can you tell us a little more about this and how IMPACT transforms areas where security and human rights are at risk?
JL: The COVID-19 pandemic has really shined a spotlight on inequality across the world, including as it relates to the management of natural resources. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the artisanal gold trade is largely informal, the closure of borders and restrictions on movement meant that only the traders with the financial means to stockpile gold or the power to circumvent the rules, were able to continue trading in gold. With fewer traders buying gold, those who continued to trade, would offer significantly lower prices to miners who were already living in impoverished conditions. This shows the vulnerabilities of informal sectors, as they tend to be a space where predatory actors take advantage of some of the world’s most disenfranchised people.
Another example can be seen in weak legal frameworks for access and ownership to land, which tend to disadvantage women the most. This can impede them from accessing mine sites without the permission of a male counterpart, making them reliant on men to earn a living. These types of situations need to be remedied, and often times this starts with a gendered analysis of existing systems, validated by those who are disadvantaged by them, and the active participation of vulnerable groups in making changes to the status quo.
NMJ: The NMJ community is at the heart of our approach and therefore transparency is of the utmost importance to us. Truly understanding each and every step of the supply chain, as we have learnt, can be challenging. How do you identify red flags within organisations and what kind of efforts go into demonstrating supply chain transparency?
JL: The first place to start is to understand the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas.This is essentially what outlines the expectations of different supply chain actors with respect to doing their due diligence on their supply chains, including the potential risks that need to be identified and monitored. The Guidance is built upon a 'progressive improvement' approach, meaning that the idea isn't to boycott or to simply cut out any supply chain actor where a risk is identified. The action taken is determined by the severity of the risk. Most importantly, the approach is based on the principle that engaging with supply chain actors to address issues or to remedy (potential) harms is most important and a way to change condition in the long run.
Transparency is a crucial part of the OECD Guidance. Companies are expected to publicly share their efforts to implement due diligence and their efforts to address risks or incidents that occur in their supply chain. Unfortunately, this is an area where companies have not made a significant amount of progress and some are hesitant to share this information publicly. However, it is an important measure to determine a true commitment and effort to due diligence. Further, the idea of due diligence is that it helps to ensure that risks are identified and addressed, not that they will never occur to begin with. The importance is that measures are implemented to avoid them in the future, and that companies take appropriate action going forward.
NMJ: What natural resources are of focus to IMPACT?
JL: We intervene at various levels in the management of several minerals, including gold, diamonds, cobalt, tin, tantalum, and tungsten. Beyond minerals, our work often crosses other natural resource sectors, such as forestry. There is an important nexus between mining and forests, as many communities that are reliant on one or both come into contact and sometimes conflict over access to these and the land where they are found. Therefore, natural resource management is often very dynamic and not one dimensional when it comes to the commodities themselves.
NMJ: What is an example of a breach of regulatory and legal reform within the jewellery industry and what processes do you follow to implement changes?
JL: This is a complex question, as most of the artisanal mining sector in many developing countries operates informally or illegally. To not penalize these informal actors, many of which have no choice but to operate outside legal parameters or do so out of necessity, the expectation is that they will progressively formalize to the best of their ability and that downstream supply chain actors can continue to purchase from them while they do so. For example, an artisanal miner may be operating without a formal registration or license to mine, which may technically be illegal, however they may not be able to afford the fee associated with this registration or cannot travel to the capital city where they would apply for it. Women miners may depend on their male counterparts to secure this for them or they may have little to no experience with government services and so may be apprehensive. These types of situations are quite common and, according to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, don’t require a supply chain actor to disengage but rather continue supporting local actors towards their efforts of “progressive improvement.”
However, there are other more flagrant circumstances, such as identifying that one of the actors in your supply chain has been named by the UN, media, or civil society group as engaging in human rights violations or smuggling on a massive scale, that should lead the company to temporarily or completely disengage from that supply chain actor.
There are various ways that companies can work with suppliers to encourage changes—ranging from site visits or audits, to engagement with civil society organizations and decision making bodies to address the situation and monitor change.
NMJ: As sustainability has become increasingly important to the industry, we are also seeing a lot of greenwashing. We understand the importance of doing, rather than telling and believe that sustainable and environmental practices are most effective when exemplified in the form of action. How does IMPACT ensure protection, conservation, and sustainability within the supply chain?
JL: This is an important question when it comes to natural resource management, particularly for minerals. Mining has negative environmental impacts, however recent technological improvements and certain techniques can significantly reduce or mitigate these. For example, the artisanal mining sector frequently uses mercury, which has devasting environmental and health impacts. There are mercury-free processing methods and equipment, however these are typically hard to access and expensive. Miners are also often unaware of the harmful impacts that chemicals like mercury can have. IMPACT works with miners and communities to raise awareness of the risks associated with practices and provides ways of improving their practices so that they minimize or eliminate these impacts.
Beyond this, we need to take a deeper look at the gendered and power dynamics of natural resource management and the environment, and how these can often lead to conflict and tension. For example, in the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo there is an indigenous group that lives and depends on the Equatorial forest referred to as the Mbuti people. They are often discriminated against and are increasingly being displaced from the forests by miners and farmers looking for new land, creating local tensions and rendering the Mbuti people even more vulnerable. Empowering local-level community structures to address these issues in a participatory and inclusive manner, ensuring participation from both women and men, is the only way in which these tensions can ultimately be addressed and the need for both economic development and environmental protection be balanced.
NMJ: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a part of IMPACT?
JL: Driven by Passion: The entire team is driven by a deep commitment to structural change. Not marketing and not “Corporate Social Responsibility.” We all share a common understanding that the issues that plague the sector and that keep the artisanal mining communities vulnerable are fundamentally about POWER. This needs to be named and local actors need to be able to speak out and to defend their interests. That’s the only way things will change. It’s no small irony that those that are closest to the source of these riches are the poorest and the most invisible. It’s particularly unjust given the unconscionable profits that are made off their backs. That injustice is what drives us as a group and as an organization.
Close to the Issues: We’re a small to mid-sized non-profit and not rigidly hierarchal. That means that there is not only a collegiality but everyone is close to the impact of the work of the organisation. As Executive Director, I can still dive into a project and know exactly where and how we are making a difference and for whom. When I speak to an international audience about the issues, my knowledge is first hand. I just wish I could spend more time in communities and a bit less in meeting rooms!
Technical Know-How: We are a very technical organization. Everything we do is based on research, evidence, and learning by doing. We have untangled every step of the artisanal gold supply chain from mine site to jeweller because we were there. I personally hand-carried the first test shipment from the DRC to the international market in Canada. What we propose or test as a way forward is based on deep knowledge but also adapted to the real world.
Women’s Leadership: Changing the world requires the full participation of both women, men, and all genders. We work closely with women and men in local producer communities to understand how every day decisions are shaped by gender and then support them to work together for gender equality which improves everyone’s development and security.
"A couple of years ago, I was struck by the words spoken by a woman from an artisanal mining community who had participated in one of our workshops. She stood up and said: “After three days, I have learned that I can ask my son how his day at school was.”. This was something that only husbands had the power to do. I was flabbergasted. My own mother did not complete high school. Both my grandmothers, both who had 8 children each, barely had any formal education and struggled to write. One had to ask my grandfather’s permission before going to the store. He provided her with cash and then she dutifully gave him the change and the receipt upon her return. I am reminded every day that we are worlds apart and it’s sometimes discouraging, but seeing how my own daughter is making her way into the world today as a strong, independent feminist ready to take on the world gives me hope. It convinces me that these radical changes—sharing in the wealth and closing that gender equality gap—are possible." - Joanne Lebert