WARNING, THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGERY
Back in June, Global witness released a report, the result of a year long undercover investigation which uncovered serious failings in the Kimberley process. However, you’d be forgiven for missing it. I did. As it seems did the jewellery trade & press in the UK who also either missed it or decided it wasn’t important enough to cover. Why?
You can read the report, titled ‘A Game of stones’ here. To sum up, it exposes how easy it is, with the use of modern technology to flaunt the customs regulations that form part of the Kimberley process, as well as the laws of sovereign nations, in this case, in Africa.
Any of us who have been to Africa with the intent of buying gemstones (within the law) will know that the accounts in this report and claims made, are true. Whilst in Namibia I was offered rough diamonds from Zimbabwe and in Tanzania, Tourmaline from the Congo. However, the point of this article is not to retell the report, please read it for yourself.
The point of this post is to ask why it wasn’t reported in the jewellery trade press and hopefully to open a few eyes to the fact that you can’t rely on these publications, or their social media accounts, to give you the full picture as to what its going on in the wider jewellery world.
(And before anybody comments, no, no-one at any of these magazines has annoyed me and I am fully aware that criticizing trade publications may not be in my interests).
I happen to think these issues are important and that we should expect better.
My instinct is that the failure to cover this report has a lot to do with the people at these magazines having not seen it. A quick look at the relevant twitter feeds from June will tell you it was awards season, with the jewellery industry busy congratulating itself. While rough diamonds from areas of the CAR mired in ethnic conflict, cross the border into Cameroon and into the ‘legitimate’ global diamond market. It also appears that non of the major jewellery trade publications seem to be following Global witness on twitter. Surely a basic step in keeping up to date with important events in the diamond industry?
Indeed, the Retail Jeweller have confirmed that they did not cover the report atall, and ‘was not aware what you are referring to’ when asked why the report wasn’t covered.
While The NAJ do follow global witness on twitter, they decided against tweeting about the report and have twice refused to answer my questions as to why, and weather they had passed on knowledge of the report to their members via their newsletter.
The professional Jeweller magazine have ignored my e-mails and a young reporter at Jewellery Focus confirmed that they had heard of the Kimberley process.
While the cynical side of me thinks that even if they had seen it, they are probably aware that a great portion of their audience wants deeply not to know about these issues and thinks the less press they get the better. In the words of the fictional Sir Desmond Glazebrook, ‘ignorance is safety,’.
Indeed a great many scenes from ‘Yes, Minister’ could be applied to the jewellery industry and the efforts of those in positions of power to look as though they are doing their best to make changes whilst resisting, with vigor, any attempts to actually do so.
Firstly maybe its necessary to explain why a report by Global witness is important.
When the blood diamond controversy first arose global witness were instrumental in bringing it to the worlds attention, with their 1998 report ”A rough trade” which concentrated on the civil war in Angola. They were then, heavily involved in the formation of the Kimberley process which was launched in 2003. An involvement that was widely publicized and was considered to give the process some much needed credibility.
In 2011, after ‘persistent and unresolved’ issues relating to human rights and loopholes in the KP, Global witness resigned as an observer. The main gripe being that diamonds from Zimbabwe, where a massacre of civilian miners was reported to have taken place, were allowed to enter the legitimate diamond trade.
From the outside, it seems that when the diamond industry think that Global witness pose a serious threat they are willing to engage with them and work to produce a framework that is acceptable to the press. However, when Global Witness and other NGO’s actually try to implement this framework to stop diamonds that are tainted by violence from entering the world market they are forced to disengage. This also seems to be when the trade press stopped paying attention to them. Indeed, a quick search on the websites of both Retail Jeweller and Proffessional jeweller for ‘Global witness’ will show that the last mention of them is back in 2011.
The diamond trade continues and theres a good chance anyone who has joined the trade since 2011 has no idea who Global Witness are and their relavence to the diamond industry.
Actually since 2011 GW have been pretty busy and have in no way disengaged from the issues surrounding the international diamond industry. Indeed since ‘A game of stones‘ was released in June, another report ‘An Inside Job‘ has been released and if you head over to www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/conflict-diamonds/ you can see many more reports, posts and articles from the last 6 years.
So why do I think the trade press should be reporting these things?
For me, its about customers, as well as people coming into the industry being given the full picture. I joined the jewellery industry straight from school, aged 16 in 2004, 2 years before the industry collectively shat itself about the film Blood Diamond and the expected backlash. Because of this, there were plenty of articles in the trade press at the time about ‘blood diamonds’ , mainly focused on what to say to concerned customers. This backlash didn’t really materialize, although there were more questions about the issues surrounding conflict diamonds from customers. Questions that, at the time, we were able to give confident and honest answers to because of the Kimberley process.
A sales person in that position today wouldn’t be able to do the same. If they knew.
Which given that many jewellers mention the Kimberley process in online communication and with customers, if they ask, then you’d have to assume they don’t. Indeed a quick survey of some leading independent and chain jewellers reveals exactly zero awareness of the report from the CAR. What this report seems to suggest, sadly, is that if a customer asks a question like ‘can you guarantee this diamond isn’t a conflict diamond?’ then this sales person can’t answer, honestly or accurately, ‘Yes’ if all they have to assure this, is the Kimberley Process.
And this is a problem, isn’t it?
The diamond in this imagined sale could be from a safe, well maintained, mine that contributes positively to an emerging nations economy. Or it could have been smuggled out of the CAR, with the money from its sale going to armed groups who spend that money on weapons, so they can spend their days killing and raping their way around this impoverished central African nation. As it stands, quite frankly, its pot luck. A situation we had hoped to have put behind us and one that we know doesn’t exist with, for example Fairtrade gold. Jewellers selling Fairtrade or fairmined gold can say with confidence, and pride, that their product doesn’t help to fund violence and misery. In fact, quite the opposite.
Obviously the responsibility for training staff lies with the business owners. In re-search for this post I was fortunate enough to get responses from and to correspond with, some senior figures at some very well known jewellers. Who, it can be said, are included in the group with ‘zero awareness’ of the report. If these guys aren’t aware of the report then there’s no way they could have informed more junior staff members in their organisation. Maybe these junior staff members browse the Retail Jeweller on their lunch break, or in less frantic moments on the shop floor, but to the best of my knowledge they wouldn’t have seen it there either and therefore wouldn’t have been in a position to decide for themselves if they pass this knowledge onto customers.
In your position as a respected jeweller, is ignorance really safety? Is it really good enough to describe yourself as a ‘Jeweller of Excellence’ then plead ignorance to goings on in your industry. Do you think your customers expect you to be well informed?
The purpose of this post isn’t to bash or upset anyone at any of the trade publications mentioned. Its aimed directly at young people entering the jewellery industry. There’s an awful lot more going on in the jewellery industry than you are being told. If its important to you that the line of work you are in doesn’t contribute to death and misery for people in other parts of the world then you need to realize that you can’t rely on your boss or the trade press to help you out with that one.
My advice is to follow @Global_Witness on twitter and sign up for their newsletter. Follow @Rapaport and sign up for their newsletter, and to not be afraid to ask difficult questions to those in more senior positions than you. Delegate upwards.
As for customers, there are many jewellers who are aware of the issues with regards to the Kimberley process and go above and beyond to make sure their diamonds do not fund conflict, violence and oppressive regimes. These jewellers tend to be recognizable by having in depth communication about these issues online, not just a token line about the Kimberley process, if anything. Again, don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions.
Fairtrade gold has been around for 10+ years now, enough time for anyone who see’s it as a priority to have taken it on board and actively promote it. If your jeweller doesn’t do Fairtrade or Fairmined gold, or isn’t enthusiastic about selling it, ask, why?. If they’re not serious about the ethics of the gold supply chain, then they probably aren’t concerned about the diamond supply chain either.
*Most jewellers in the U.K can now say they ‘do’ fairtrade gold. This is because of the good work of a large UK jewellery manufacturer who now offer the option to cast their products in Fairtrade gold, making this available to a large proportion of the jewellery trade. They deserve a great deal of credit for this work and for doing a lot to actively promote fairtrade jewellery within the trade. What this means though is that when questioned jewellers are able to say they ‘do’ fairtrade gold, without actually having to stock it, promote it, spend money on it, or do anything that demonstrates any kind of commitment to it. I think this is an important point, the landscape of mineral extraction is changing and evolving, there may well be issues with other materials in the future, do you want to spend money with a jeweller who’s on the ball and keeps up with these developments so they can keep you properly informed? or with a jeweller who pleads ignorance and waits for things to be served up to them on a platter?
If you are looking for a jeweller who takes Fair trade gold seriously then head over to the Fairtrade gold website where you can find a list of U.K fair trade gold stockists here and for a list of registered goldsmiths in your area, click here .
And for customers and jewellers alike if you’r wondering whats at stake when we talk about fairness and conditions in the jewellery trade then take a look at the image at the bottom of this post. It is a very graphic photograph of a gold mine collapse in Ghana, an example of what can happen when things go wrong.Needless to say, this is NOT a fairtrade goldmine and this could easily be a photograph of a diamond mine, covered by the Kimberley process.
I love jewellery but not to the extent I’m able to accept that scenes like this are not a rarity in our industry.
Many thanks to Global witness and to all the individual jewellers who responded to my e-mails when re-searching for this article. Sadly, The Houlden group who represent a large number of independant ‘Jewellers of Excellence’ failed to respond as did the Professional Jeweller magazine.