Rapaport Magazine

The Pulse of Progress

With awareness growing about human rights abuses in the trade, here are some views from both outside and within the diamond world.

By Rachael Taylor

What the NGOs say

Whenever a non-governmental organization (NGO) announces its intention to put the diamond sector under a loupe, there is a flutter of disquiet. With no stake in the industry, these organizations feel little need to buff shine into their reports — unlike those from within the trade, which tend to celebrate progress rather than punish transgression.

A seminal year for NGOs and diamonds was 2018. That was when Canadian organization Impact publicly cut ties with the Kimberley Process (KP) and accused it of giving buyers “false confidence” due to its lack of rigor. Global Witness, meanwhile, criticized the World Diamond Council (WDC) for the reforms to its System of Warranties, which the charity’s campaign manager, Sophia Pickles, described as more “a token attempt to appease criticism of the diamond industry’s failings than a real step toward ensuring that the diamond trade does not continue to fuel human rights abuses.”

It was also the year that Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report titled “The Hidden Cost of Jewellery.” Besides outlining the general pros and cons of diamond mining, the report targeted 13 major jewelry players and “found that most companies still fall short of meeting international standards.” None of the jewelers in its sights achieved a rating of “excellent,” and only Tiffany & Co. merited a “strong” label. Boodles, Chopard and Harry Winston were branded “weak.”

HRW also referred to the jewelry trade’s “overreliance” on the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) for due diligence.

“The RJC has positioned itself as a leader for responsible business in the jewelry industry, but has flawed governance, standards, and certification systems,” the report said. “Despite its shortcomings, many jewelry companies use RJC certification to present their gold and diamonds as ‘responsible.’ This is not enough.”

Since then, NGOs and the diamond industry have continued both to clash and collaborate. In 2020, sustainability-focused group Resolve teamed up with conflict-prevention charity the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) to create the Maendeleo Diamond Standards, which aim to improve artisanal mining by working with governments. “In a world defined by the Covid-19 pandemic, collaboration is the only means to tackle sustainability and health challenges,” said Resolve chief executive Stephen D’Esposito.

In June 2021, the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC) organized a strategic meeting on diamonds and the challenges facing affected communities. The move was part of its “We Need to Talk About Diamonds” campaign, which advocates that businesses take due diligence further than the KP framework. In its 2019 report “Real Care Is Rare,” the KPCSC declared care a necessary fifth “C” for evaluating diamonds. Blood diamonds still exist, the document stated, with private security guards patrolling mines and performing the role of soldiers in war zones.

Another group that has highlighted this issue is Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID), which recently wrote to Petra Diamonds’ major debt holders about human rights abuses at the miner’s Williamson deposit in Tanzania. In a 2020 report titled “The Deadly Cost of ‘Ethical’ Diamonds,” it made claims that at least seven people had died at the hands of security personnel since Petra took over in 2009, with a further 41 people suffering assault. “Petra Diamonds promotes an ethical image to help sell its diamonds,” the report read, “but that image is contradicted by the experiences of local community members.”

What industry insiders say

“An ethical diamond is a diamond that has been sourced, mined and produced with the utmost integrity. We buy rough diamonds directly from mining companies, cut and polish them, and sell directly to jewelry and watch brands. All of this is tracked through our integrated [resource-management software, ensuring] 100% traceability and the integrity of our pipeline. With this level of control, we ensure our diamonds are completely ethical and compliant with the Kimberly Process certification and the Responsible Jewellery Council norms that we are signed up to. It is our constant endeavor to use our diamonds as a vehicle to create a positive impact [for] the underprivileged, especially at our cutting centers, where we prioritize minority communities. In doing so, we enable them to uplift their standard of living and provide a better quality of life for their families.”

Vishal Mehta
Director, Dimexon Diamonds

“The most ethical diamond you could source would be something antique or repurposed. When that’s not possible, the bare minimum is to make sure they are KP-certified and from a mine you trust. The Kimberley Process did a lot for limiting conflict-free diamonds but ignored a lot of other problems in diamond mining, [such as] human rights violations and negative environmental impact. You also want to limit the number of exchanges between mines and you so that no additional product is mixed in. As with all stones, you have to do your due diligence.”

Emily Wheeler
Designer and founder, Emily P. Wheeler

“There’s not one definition of an ‘ethical diamond’ that we adhere to. Our aim is to always consider the environmental and human component of the diamond industry, whether natural or lab, and this guides who we do business with and what we sell. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and so we meet clients where they are at, always educating and empowering them to consider all options for the best decision.”

Christina Gandia Gambale
Co-owner, Greenwich St. Jewelers

“To me, an ethical diamond means traceability and transparency, knowing that the diamonds are mined and cut in a place where safe working conditions and fair wages are guaranteed. Recycled diamonds are another great option to be more ethical, as they are repurposed instead of newly mined, [so] there’s nearly zero impact on the environment and surrounding communities. Recycled diamonds are diamonds that were previously owned and have been taken out of their original settings to be reused in a new piece of jewelry.”

Jayce Wong
Creative director, Artisan Atelier

Images clockwise from top left: Christina Gandia Gambale; Emily Wheeler; Vishal Mehta; Jayce Wong

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - April 2022. To subscribe click here.

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