Opening Remarks for “Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference: Minerals, Responsible Sourcing

As Prepared

Good morning!  Welcome to the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Women’s Economic Empowerment Conference on Minerals, Responsible Sourcing, and the Jewelry Supply Chain.  We are delighted to have you with us today.

This year we saw the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote – a critical basic right, which empowers women in this country.

This milestone marks a moment for us to focus on a further critical element for women – and that’s our participation in the economy.

The Trump Administration has included women’s economic empowerment as a priority in America’s National Security Strategy.  The National Security Strategy explicitly states:

“Societies that empower women to participate fully in civic and economic life,” are “more prosperous and peaceful.”  The United States will “support efforts to advance women’s equality, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote women and youth empowerment programs.”

We have also have a White House initiative which many of you probably know, the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative or WGDP which is focused on empowerment of women.

And here in EB, we have a plan as well, known as POWER, or Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise.  The goal of POWER is to connect U.S. women entrepreneurs and business owners with women entrepreneurs overseas. We want to create relationships where women will be able to promote each other’s successes – where by training, investing or promoting their enterprises.

At this moment in history, we have momentum. This momentum builds on decades of U.S. efforts to support women’s economic leadership around the globe.  In regional networks of women entrepreneurs all over the world, we know that women are much more than beneficiaries of growth and stability — they drive it!

We recognize that women’s potential and leadership is all too often untapped, and that women face significant obstacles to full participation in the workforce and the economy.  We believe that advancing women’s economic participation globally is critical to achieving U.S. foreign policy objectives, including economic growth and development.

Our conference today is a perfect example of this.  It reinforces U.S. policy perspectives on an important set of overlapping issues.  Women play important roles in the precious metals and minerals mining sector.

Women are major consumers of jewelry products.  We also design, make, and sell jewelry. When we empower women in the mining and jewelry supply chains, it has the potential to drive economic growth, development, and job creation for women.

Women’s empowerment rests, in part, on responsible supply chains that provide transparency and traceability.  Responsible sourcing allows companies to know where they are sourcing from and what impact their business has along the value chain.

The responsible sourcing of minerals and gems, in the jewelry sector and beyond, is more than simply knowing your customer – it is about the origin of your materials and the potential national security concerns that might be in play.

Such concerns mean companies need to be more aware than ever about what goes into their supply chain.

Jewelry, in particular, presents challenges for responsible supply chains – and for women – which is why we are focusing on it today.

In all of these cases, women working at the artisanal end of the supply chain are exposed to multiple forms of violence, the poisonous effects of mercury, and more.  We will hear about some of these issues later this morning.

Governments, civil society, and the private sector have recognized that empowering women and girls economically is the best way to achieve growth.  Businesses play a major role in addressing these rights by conducting due diligence on the unique risks women face.

Today, I’m very pleased to announce that we’re releasing a set of recommended actions for companies to strengthen respect for women’s rights while addressing adverse risks to businesses in their supply chains.  These include recommendations on establishing transparent risk management plans to minimize risks and bolster women’s economic participation across supply chains. And these recommendations are iterative and, as experts, your feedback is welcome.

We have assembled a lineup of innovative, diverse speakers with deep expertise in a wide-range of sectors to explore these complex issues.  We have asked panelists to walk us through the complex intersections of women’s economic empowerment, mining and jewelry supply chains, and responsible sourcing.

With that, I will welcome to the stage our esteemed keynote speaker, Gina Drosos.  Gina is at the CEO of Signet Jeweler, the largest jewelry company in the world. Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, Signet is home to many of the jewelry brands we know so well, including Jared, Kay, and Zales Jewelers.  Signet is a leader in responsible sourcing and an early advocate of the Responsible Jewelry Council, which seeks to develop and implement rigorous supply chain standards. Please join me in welcoming Gina Drosos to the stage.

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