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’.
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
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.
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 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.
 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.