In search of the Jewellers Holy Grail.


The advent of certified Fairtrade Fairmined gold this year cannot be underestimated. Despite its critics rightly pointing out that in the early stages FT Gold will be of minimal volumes as to have a negligible impact upon the jewellery trade miss the point. They think in terms of mere commodity value. To the customer, a gold wedding ring is not a commodity, it is a symbol of an emotional expression. The ring tells a story and Fairtrade Gold ‘is the best gold story in the world’.

Alluvial Gold Dust

Now that customers have an alternative in Fairtrade gold it is just a matter of time before the simple truth enshrined in a narrative of transparency and traceability will drive the transformation of the jewellery sector towards a greater alignment between the source of our products and their true ecological values. Over the next few years we will see our industry move away from its moribund ethical mediocrity to rediscover it essential creative vitality as being a true art form, a craft, and a vehicle for the genuine delivery of economic, social and ecological justice.  Yet the journey does not stop with gold, this is where it begins.

Diamonds are a Human Rights Issue

Over the many years I have been a jeweller and activist, I have always recognised that at some point we would as an industry need to deal with the elephant in the room; namely the millions of alluvial diamond diggers who are treated as dirt by the diamond industry. There can be no denying that in the most opulent of luxury industries, the grey suited nameless and shameless elite sit on the backs of the daily exploited millions whose poverty causes them to pound their bodies in scorching heat and denude the environment of all life so they can earn a dollar a day, whilst the traders and the Bourses get richer by the hour. The very people who were so keen to embrace The Kimberley Process when it was launched are the very self same people who welcomed the export of diamonds from The Marange region of Zimbabwe in 2010

The Fields of Kono - diamond digging.

What is conveniently forgotten in the diamond world is that those that make the money are a small minority. Over the years there have been a number of initiative that have been started, all aimed at improving the lot of the small-scale diamond digger. Whether they have been commercial processes or NGO led initiatives, the few attempts to build a model that can successfully address the difficulties in the sector have in truth not been particularly successful. The Peace Diamond Alliance, The Mwadui Community Diamond Project, Diamond Development Initiative and others have had some success. Yet  if we measure success in terms of impact on the sector as a whole, or even producing a product  to commercial availability then these projects failed.

Even our darling friend The Kimberley Process has finally been exposed in the last 12 months, (highlighted by Human Rights Watch), as being powerless to address conflict, murder, manipulation and the exploitation of small-scale diamond miners in the face of the self-serving vested interest of the Zimbabwean elite. Every diamond mined in Zimbabwe will find its way in to a KPC supply chain, whether through legitimate channels or through the black market.  Out maneuvered and out politicked, the Kimberley Process now is powerless to prevent the diamond markets of the world being flooded with stones from The Marange region. Now the Chinese are actively working to introduce cutting and polishing processes that will bypass any export certifications required by Kimberley as Kimberley only covers the export of rough stone.  Therefore Marange stones will become invisible to the global market . Given the complicit support of this flooding of the market with stones soaked in human rights abuses by The Responsible Jewellery Council The International Bourses, Diamond Manufacturers and and others it is plain to many in the industry that the current diamond industry can no longer be trusted to maintain the ethical integrity of the product that jewellers love so much.

We Need Change

What is needed is a root and branch reassessment of the industry.  We need a new vision and story surrounding the diamond that begins to connect the diamond back to its source. A story that links the diamond as a vehicle for poverty alleviation, for delivering real change on the ground for the ordinary digger who currently sees no value placed upon their contribution to the supply chain. It is my belief that a certified fair trade diamond can begin to address some of the glaring deficiencies in the diamond industry.

To begin with it would address full transparency and traceability from mine to retail. I gave an interview to a journalist last week who told me stories of her spending the day in Hatton Garden London with diamond dealers who either refused to disclose source or didn’t know where their stones were from. Depressingly only some of the dealers disclosed that they were compliant with Kimberley. Yet all failed to make the obvious link that if you don’t where your stones come from a statement about Kimberley is worthless. As we all know stones are routinely smuggled from Zimbabwe to South Africa or Mozambique and then exported under KPCS to the international markets.  And this is just one example of many I can think of.

A Rough Diamond

Secondly a fair trade diamond would have a standard associated with it that can be viewed by the public. This would mean that any stone that came from a certified source would instantly be associated with that public standard so everyone can see what value their purchase has made to the community from which the diamond came. This standard would be independently audited by a genuine third party, thereby giving the trade and the consumer the confidence to trust the source and the claims over the product.

Thirdly a fair trade diamond standard would have a transparent component that would force disclosure on everyone who touches the certified supply chain through a third party audit. Given the high levels of financial non-disclosure, smuggling and iniquity in the current value chain, trading standards in diamonds are desperately needed. How is that we have allowed ourselves as an industry to sell such an emotional and aspirational product like a diamond when we have no way of verifying its financial integrity. Clearly the current supply chain does not work and needs to be called out as dysfunctional.

There are now some attempts within the industry to create a track and trace supply chain, examples being what has happened with some Canadian diamonds as well as the more bulk commodity approach adopted by the De Beers[1] Forever Mark. This is broadly good news to those in the industry who are concerned about transparency. The strength of this system is that it will allow mine to market traceability for ethical jewellers and consumers. The weakness is that it once again seals up the value chain in the hands of the corporate companies who have the financial clout to make this kind of system work. It is no way benefits the small scale digger, who once again is being left out of the value chain.

So fourthly what a certified fair trade diamond will achieve is a supply chain that is rooted in community based diamond mining and is not dependent on corporate money to succeed. Fair trade is an economic process specifically designed to benefit the poor and the marginalised. This is vital if we are to truly address the huge financial imbalance that is in the diamond industry and for the first time strike a positive blow for the small digger and feed the growing ethical consumer markets in the east and here in the west.

Economic justice for the poor in the diamond industry is not a naive idea. Yet a fair trade diamond, like its cousin fair trade gold is no pipe dream. It is a narrative and idea is compelling enough to change the consumers’ view of diamonds. It is not rooted in a reactionary campaign, but rather a proactive movement of jewellers and consumers around the world who are looking for fresh innovative ideas that will deliver better value for the poor and marginalised miners of our world.

A fair trade diamond is a simple idea that I believe has the power to change the reality on the ground for the millions of artisanal diamond miners of our world. I see it as the Holy Grail of the ethical and fair trade jewellery movement.


[1] De Beers is 45% owned by Anglo American the transnational mining giant. Given AA’s desire to start an open cast copper and gold mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay (http://www.bristolbayalliance.com/) is an unintellectual and irrational action on the part of AA. It could be argued that 45%c of every De Beers stone supports this stupidity.

9 thoughts on “In search of the Jewellers Holy Grail.

  1. I love this. A question for you. A friend of mine was recently shopping for engagement rings. I suggested he search out some fair trade, fair mined options. At more than one traditional, chain-style jewelry store, the salesperson assured him that thanks to the Kimerley Process and other safe guards, none of the stones in their store were likely to be conflict stones. What do you think of that statement?

  2. Hi Felicity, there is no doubt in my mind that Kimberley has improved the industry, but it has always had limitations. The principle issue being it only refers to rough stones, not cut and polished. The most serious flaw with the industry as a whole is that there is no mine to market traceability. Therefore a dodgy diamond from Zim, can find it way via being smuggled to South Africa into a KPCS certified supply chain, hit the bourse floor, be mixed with other diamonds with the same transparency problems, be cut and polished and bingo, sold to the customer as Conflict Free. When in fact there is no real way of proving that statement. Jewellers and sales assistants won’t know any of this as many of their managers don’t know it either. The diamond industry is failing to protect the consumer from illegitimate sources. I therefore would only trust a stone that comes from a track and trace system.

  3. Hi Anna, What I am saying is that given smuggling is so endemic in diamonds, that without 1/3rd party verification over a secure chain of custody from mine, to export, to bourse, to cutting and polishing and then finally to jeweller and customer. It will be difficult now with the failures of Kimberley over Zimbabwe and other countries to trust the system as it stands. The small scale miner needs access to the same resource opportunity that the big corporates do.

  4. Greg,
    there is more that one elephant in the room and the biggest of them all is Israel, an apartheid state which stands accused of war crimes by two UN Human Rights Council investigations and is also the world’s leading diamond exporter in dollar terms Last November, in evidence to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, Israeli economist, Shir Hever, stated “Overall the Israeli diamond industry contributes about $1 billion annually to the Israeli military and security industries … every time somebody buys a diamond that was exported from Israel some of that money ends up in the Israeli military so the financial connection is quite clear”
    The jewellery industry is well aware that Israeli diamonds are funding war crimes and other serious human rights violations against the Palestinian people, yet diamonds cut and polished in Israel are labeled as “conflict free” and allowed to contaminate the entire diamond market. As there is no legal definition of a “conflict free” diamond the industry has used this to con the public. People are being lied to by jewelers – diamonds cut & polished in Israel are not conflict free, they are de facto blood diamonds.
    How can the jewellery industry continue to support the Kimberley Process which labels diamonds that fund war crimes in Africa as conflict or blood diamonds yet diamonds that fund war crimes in Gaza are sold to as conflict free diamonds .
    The public can have no confidence in either the Kimberley Process or the jewellery industry which continues to facilitate the trade in diamonds from Israel and Zimbabwe that are funding gross human rights violations.

  5. Hi Sean, The points you make are passionately felt, I can hear that and to a degree I am sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinians. Although I must confess that I am not so well versed in the complicated politics of the Middle East to say I have a solution. What I do encourage is freedom of speech and expression (unlike some Swiss based Jewellery Trade shows), which I know is denied many Palestinians and a mature democracy like Israel should be more aware of the this than perhaps they are. Regarding boycotting diamonds, this is not something I would support on mass. There is no doubt The Bourses of the world massively benefited from blood diamonds and the fact that no reparations were ever paid to the effected countries by the diamond brokering countries of the world is a tragedy. For my part I see my contribution to justice in our industry as working with the small-scale diamond miners, building a fair trade system for them to enjoy and benefit from and begin to turn the extraordinary wealth that is in the diamond to the hands of the mining communities.
    Regarding your comment about why the jewelery trade continues to support Kimberley is because they don’t have anything else. Most jewellers I speak to are not stupid, they know that Kimberley has let them down hugely, but they are powerless in the face of the corporate diamond houses and invisible brokers and traders. This is the point of my article (which I might add was censored by a trade magazine as well) we need a new system by which the public and consumer can judge the ethical credentials of the stones they are buying. As with gold, I believe this is through a fair trade system. My advocacy is focused on putting a good news story for the poor on the table for people to buy, this is the course I have chosen. This is my small contribution.

  6. I agree that the Kimberly Process is deeply flawed especially with regard to Israeli blood diamonds. It means that no-one of conscience can buy diamonds as they could well be funding apartheid, occupation and warcrimes committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. This anomaly in the Process renders it null and void as a safety net to prevent blood diamonds from contaminating the market. As far as fair trade diamonds go, all produce should be fair trade of course but Israeli diamonds will never fit that criteria as long as that state is in breach of so many international laws.

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