The second post in a two part series explores the links between the diamond sector and paramilitary groups – and an emerging fair trade/fair mined approach for the jewelry industry.
By Marc Choyt
As outlined in my first post, the Kimberley Process Certification (KP) is failing to ensure the conflict-free status of the diamonds it certifies. I believe it was destined to fail because, in context to the blood diamond issue, there has not been, in the jewelry sector, significant or meaningful public accountability. The death of millions of Africans in the conflict diamond wars has become a marketing problem, or merely “a statistic.”
Instead, what we now see is brazenly sanctioned denial of past events and their moral consequence. I see this as a symptom of the hidden underlying toxicity and violence behind the wedding ring you may be wearing.
The Responsible Jewellry Council: Squandered Leadership
The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), with over 400 members, is considered a leader in setting forth responsible practices for the jewelry sector. I fully understand that the ethical issues faced by large-scale companies are not the same that I face in my designer jewelry company and I have followed this organization with both hope and skepticism.
The RJC became a leader representing large mining and trade groups — De Beers, Rio Tinto, Jewelers of American, and others — after the blood diamond tragedy became widely public. One recent event would make George Orwell rise from the dead and shout, “I told you so!” This past January, the RJC appointed James Courage as its new CEO. Despite Courage’s professional qualifications as a business leader, his appointment makes a statement.
Courage worked in marketing for De Beers from 1983 to 1996.
It was during the nineties that conflicts funded by the diamond trade were prevalent. It is common knowledge that De Beers is central to the African diamond trade. Though De Beers publically denies the complicity in the blood diamonds wars, they did, according to investigative journalists, buy diamonds from the rebels in Angola until 1998, when UN sanctions were put in place.
The symbolism of Courage’s appointment is illustrative of how confident the RJC is that the past events are under control. It could have never happened 10 years ago. His appointment is a desecration of the souls who were killed and a callous dagger to the heart of the survivors.
Links Between Diamond Sector And Paramilitary Groups
However, the entire jewelry sector (of which I am a member) is deeply complicit in crimes against humanity. The hiring of Courage, which has drawn little criticism from the jewelry press, is a rewriting of history and evidence of an insidious consensus trance. Those diamond war survivors who walk around Sierra Leon with stumps instead of hands need to be brought into the room with the World Diamond Council, De Beers, and a broad spectrum of jewelers.
The historical relationship between diamond mining companies and paramilitary groups, such as Executive Outcome, needs to be exposed. The deaths, the rapes, the maimings, must be made public. The RJC’s corporate sponsors could then build a memorial to blood diamonds, with photos of its victims, just as Cambodia did at S21, their Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Without truth and reconciliation, KP and the current leadership in the jewelry sector, will never have any moral legitimacy. Indeed, these days, without morality or connection to realities on the ground, diamantaires and government officials squander leadership to such a degree that it is garnering widespread criticism even from within the trade.
Criticism From Within Diamond Sector
In The Hijack Of Industry’s Conflict Diamond Leadership, Chaim Even Zohar, a top diamond analyst, discussed the current state of those who are leading KP issues: anonymous email, secret meetings at the OECD to determine the fate of KP, no transparency or broad stakeholder involvement. This is embarrassing, insular behavior you would expect from young children on the playground.
Even Rob Bates, a leading jewelry trade journalist who specializes in diamond issues, recently wrote of the diamond sector’s sad lack of leadership:
“When your industry is premised on consumer apathy and callousness, that’s not much of a business model.”
Stakeholder Status and the Barriers to Self-Determination
There are other important, yet related reasons for KP’s failure. Many in the jewelry world falsely believe that KP was responsible for ending the conflict diamond wars. In fact, it was British military intervention in Sierra Leone that achieved a halt of the rebel advance on Freetown and the ensuing collapse of the RFU.
Kimberley has always, in its essence, been antidemocratic.
The millions of small-scale diamond diggers, who suffered in the blood diamond wars, have never been a serious part of the consultation. Those small-scale diamond diggers who work independently have been further disenfranchised by corrupt governments and traders working under the auspicious of KP.
This undermining of their stakeholder status and the institutionalized barriers to self-determination explain, at least in part, the vibrant black market trade in diamonds. KP has not changed the world for small-scale diamond diggers, most of whom still work for a dollar a day.
A New Approach For The Jewelry Sector
Despite what has taken place with KP, I have seen tremendous progress toward a more ethical approach in the jewelry sector over the last seven years. An entirely new ethical jewelry movement is attempting to create virtuous, fair trade supply chains based upon traceability, transparency, and substantive on-the-ground change -- uniting small-scale miners with honorable diamond dealers, gold suppliers, jewelers and consumers of conscience.
One excellent example is the Fairtrade and fair-mined gold initiative, a joint effort of the Alliance for Responsible Mining and Fair Labeling Organization. Small companies, jewelers and suppliers with a passion for human rights and environmental justice are taking the lead. Ethical Metalsmiths and Fair Jewelry Action are involved in bringing fair trade gold to the North American market.
In addition to fair trade gem suppliers, Jeweltree Foundation and the Diamond Development Initiative are working with small scale-diamond communities to bring fair trade diamonds to market. These organizations should be in the center of any efforts to reform the diamond sector, as they are on the ground. On the large scale mining side, De Beers, to their credit, has developed an excellent model for beneficiation with the Botswana government.
The elimination of KP though would be a great step in removing the barriers to real and substantive change, and supporting what is best in the emerging ethical jewelry supply chain. Mainstream jewelers who compete in the same market as ethical jewelers could no longer claim KP “conflict free” diamonds.
Ethical jewelers would gain influence because the moral choice would be clear. It would not be as easy for consumers to have so much apathy if the issues were more obvious.
They would know to ask their jeweler whether a diamond is verifiably mine-to-market traceable and transparent -- or not.
Part I: Why The Kimberley Certification Process For “Conflict Free Diamonds” Must Be Abandoned