About 3 years ago, when I started writing about ethical issues in the jewellery trade, after a trip to Namibia, I was made aware of the campaign group ‘@wardiamonds ‘ who campaign to highlight the links between the Israeli diamond industry and the ongoing situation that exists between Israel and occupied Palestinian territories. Its not an issue I have any in depth knowledge of, however I am aware that Israel is a major player in the diamond industry and that the Israel, Palestine situation is an ongoing, complicated and contentious issue of international importance. Its something I have looked into since and the video below, from the excellent Crash Course world history is, in my opinion, a good overview of the situation.
Back in 2015 after the group left comments on my blog and facebook page I decided to get in touch with Sean Clinton to ask him some questions about his background, his history and his campaigning. I was keen to engage with an issue that was clearly important, that I knew little about and it seems ,unavoidable, if we’re going to genuinely have diamonds and jewellery that aren’t in some way funding conflict somewhere in the world. I was also keen to find out if his direct style had any success and get some broader opinions on the jewellery industry and what the future may hold. In hindsight, I was looking for some pointers in formulating my own brand of campaigning within the jewellery industry and to see why someone with no connection to the diamond industry decided to get so involved.
That was back in 2015 and the list of questions I sent Sean remained unanswered for one reason or another. Fast forward to November 2017 and another blog post of mine caught his attention Missed or ignored? The UK Jewellery industries response to Global Witness report. Following a twitter exchange I was happy to re-engage with Sean and below are the his answers to the questions I posed. Its maybe a fitting time to write this post, as Gem explorer Yiannis Melas protests the the sale of a Disogono diamond by going on hunger strike, Robert Mugabe loses power in Zimbabwe, the Paradise papers reveal more revelations, Global witness release important reports and the Brilliant Earth expose guy appears to have been paid off. Shit has been going down as of late, and some of the questions I posed back then seem more relevant than ever.
Needless to say I am aware that Israel and Palestine is a contentious issue and a debate that quickly turns toxic in pretty much any walk of life, let alone in the jewellery industry. With that being said, I will be trying to moderate the comments section as lightly as possible, and I encourage people to add constructive and fact based comments. The purpose of this post, and the blog, is to encourage discussion and debate on issues that don’t get covered in the normally jewellery industry press, there are no sacred cows. Only abusive and racist comments will not be approved.
How did you first get involved in activism?
Having grown up in Co. Leitrim during my formative years at the height of “The Troubles” which also coincided with the apartheid era in South Africa I became very aware of how human rights and politics can be intrinsically entwined. The ability of the politically powerful to weaponise language in order to demonise those without political power was something I became conscious of early on. Nelson Mandella was labelled a terrorist in the UK and the USA for resisting apartheid just as Palestinians are today for resisting Israeli apartheid. Having learned to read between the lines to identify the real agenda of those in power gave me a healthy scepticism for all politicians particularly those in dominant positions. It became clear that in order to correct injustices it was necessary to support those who spoke truth to power for an alternative, fairer narrative, based on respect for human rights and international laws to materialise. That remains the case today and will forever be the same.
What first drew you to the issues in Israeli – Palestinian conflict?
I’m not exactly sure what first go me interested in Israel/Palestine, but when I heard Palestinians being described as terrorists I knew there must be a reason and another part to the story that we weren’t being told about. Sure enough, as soon as I began to scrape the surface of the history behind the conflict it became blindingly clear. The appalling injustice suffered by the defenceless Palestinian people at the hands of western-backed Zionists colonisers shocked me deeply. What alarmed me even more was the breadth and depth of the disinformation I had absorbed from mainstream media which portrayed Zionists as victims of Arab intransigence and violence rather than the reality of the legitimate Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation. No people anywhere would voluntarily lie down and step aside to allow foreigners steal their land, their homes and businesses but when that happened in Palestine those who resisted were labelled terrorists. It was obvious to me as an unbiased observer with no axe to grind for either side of the conflict that anyone who bothered to learn about the history of Palestine could not but side with the justice of the Palestinian struggle.
How and why did that bring you on to the diamond trade?
My interest in the diamond trade came about in the wake of the 2006 Israeli assault on Lebanon. As I watched Israeli war planes, tanks and ships bombard southern Lebanon and Beirut for 34 days I wondered how a regime ruling over a population of just 7 million people could afford to sustain repeated wars of aggression while maintaining the social services needed to sustain a first world economy. So I began researching Israeli government spending and the Israeli economy. I was amazed to discover the extent to which the Israeli economy is so heavily reliant on diamond exports. Like most other people I had heard about Israel’s high tech economy but never heard any mention their diamond exports which were worth more than twice that of their electronics or pharmaceutical exports. Since campaigning have you have any notable, what you consider, victories? by why of policy changes, law changes etc. As governments only move in response to public pressure changes in the law to prevent the trade in all blood diamonds will only come at the end of the campaign. Given the way powerful vested interests have managed to deflect public attention from blood diamonds on to “conflict diamonds” and to feed disinformation and lies about “conflict free” diamonds to mainstream media and glossy publication which are reliant on their advertising revenue it’s no surprise that the public have been conned into believing the trade in blood diamonds has ended.
Despite this the campaign to expose the double standard in the diamond industry which legalises the trade in blood diamonds that fund rogue regimes guilty of grievous human rights violations has notched up a number of significant victories. When we exposed the linkage between a Steinmetz Diamond Group and the Givati Brigade which was responsible for the 2009 massacre of the Samoui family in Gaza De Beers were pressured to remove a Forevermark Steinmetz diamond they placed in the Tower of London in a blaze of publicity in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Members of the Inminds human rights group held bi-weekly protests outside the Tower for months on end and a member of the Samouni family in Gaza recorded a video message to the queen pleading for the blood diamond to be removed. It was quietly removed a few months later and hasn’t been heard of since.
In January 2013 I sent a registered letter to the then president and CEO of Sothebys Mr.William Ruprecht outlining in detail the links between their partner SDG (50:50 in Sotheby’s Diamonds) and grievous human rights violations by the Givati Brigade and alerting him about the risk to Sotheby’s brand and reputation. On February 27, 2014 a significant new “Risk Factor” was included in Sotheby’s Form 10-K
Annual Report. It warns: “Sotheby’s could be exposed to reputational harm as a result of wrongful actions by certain third parties. Sotheby’s is involved in various business arrangements and ventures with unaffiliated third parties. Wrongful actions by such parties could harm Sotheby’s brand and reputation.” The previous November, ten months after I sent the letter to William Ruprecht, Sotheby’s auctioned the Steinmetz Pink diamond for a world record $83 million in Geneva. News of the auction went viral immediately. I posted numerous comments to articles exposing the link between that diamond and the massacre of the Samouni family – a suspected war crime
documented by the UNHRC, AI, HRW and B’tselem. On the day they posted the Form10-K results Sotheby’s also disclosed that the consortium that purchased the diamond had defaulted and they had taken the diamond into their inventory valued at $73 million. In April I wrote an article outlining many discrepancies and unanswered questions about the default. I believe the investors learned of the linkage between the diamond and the Samouni family massacre and defaulted because a diamond tarnished by bloodshed and violence is a blood diamond and is a liability not an investment worth $150 million which is what the investors thought when they purchased it. The fact that Sotheby’s didn’t initiate legal proceedings against the defaulters suggests that the defaulters were in a strong position to defend themselves as Sotheby failed to disclose all relevant facts about the diamond prior to the auction.
I believe Tiffany’s association with Steinmetz has also damaged that company. I wrote a number of articles exposing the linkage between Tiffany, Steinmetz and the Givati Brigade. In 2015 Tiffany’s were suddenly dropped from the line up of key note speakers scheduled to
present at the Responsible Business Summit USA 2016 after I raised questions about their participation with the organisers. I told them “it would be a travesty if Tiffany’s were allowed to use an ethical umbrella to conceal HR violations in their supply chain”. Probably most significant of all is the demise of the Steinmetz Diamond Group brand. In 2014 it was announced that Beny Steinmetz sold SDG to his brother Daniel and the company was re-branded as Diacore. The spin put on this at the time by Steinmetz’s lawyer was that it was to distance the company from the Guinea mining scandal in which Beny Steinmetz
Group Resources is accused of corruption. On the same day Beny Steinmetz countered saying it was just “part of routine business”. I believe it is more likely the company was rebranded as a result of pressure from a combination of sources including De Beers, Forevermark, Sotheby’s and Tiffanys all of which have substantial business dealings with SDG and whose brand images were being tarnished by their association with a company linked to a Unit of the Israeli military accused of war crimes.
Have you had much engagement from people within the trade?
I have had some discussions with leading figures in the industry some of which they initiated and others that I contacted myself but for confidentiality reasons I can’t disclose any names. What is the typical reaction you get when talking to people from the trade?
One thing for sure is that they are very interested in the campaign and are worried in case it gains traction with the public. I know for a fact that the campaign has been discussed among industry leaders and that they collectively decided not to engage with me or to respond to any
of my articles. I think they realised they made a big mistake when they forced the Responsible Jeweller magazine to withdraw editions of the magazine from stands at the Baselworld Jewellery Fair in March 2012 when the magazine published a letter of mine asking “Why should Israel dodge the blood diamonds rule?” They compounded their clumsy overreaction by demanding the editor issue a public apology in the following month’s edition along with publishing a full page of letters from leaders of the global diamond industry attacking me while ignoring the fact that Israeli diamonds fund a regime guilty of gross human rights violations.
The reaction of individual jewellers I have spoken to vary considerably. Some have told me they are supportive of the campaign but won’t say so in public for fear of a backlash from within the industry. Other are dismissive and angered by the campaign as they claim it is damaging to their business in which case I suggest they speak out and demand an end to the trade in all blood diamonds and not just “conflict diamonds”.
Are there any diamond sellers/companies/brands that you would recommend as being in your
opinion more engaged/pro-active with the issues you campaign about?
Yes there are some jewellers who go that extra mile in order to ensure their diamonds are free from bloodshed and violence. I would recommend Cred Jewellery, Ingle and Rhode and Inspira Diamonds.
If there was a company that did comply with your definition of ethical would you support
Yes, definitely. Any company that can prove their diamond are truly conflict-free I’ll be
happy to support and recommend them to others.
I notice you are blocked from commenting on JCK’s website, how did this come about and
are you banned from anywhere else?
When I added comments to articles published by Rob Bates they would always get deleted and eventually I was blocked altogether. Recently however I noticed that I was able to add a comment to the Brad Brooks-Rubin article but I haven’t had reason to comment there since. A number of other jewellery pages have blocked me on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The National Associoation of Jewellers has blocked me from their Twitter page and the Diamond Producers Association, which is promoting the diamond industry through slick soft-focus videos on YouTube, has soft-blocked me so that my comments aren’t visible to the public. It just shows how worried they are the public learning the facts about the human rights violations linked to the diamonds industry which they clearly can’t deny or defend.
Have you ever been faced with legal action over your activism?
No, never and I don’t expect to as I only deal in facts and they are facts the industry don’t want splashed all over the media.
What would you like to see the international diamond industry doing to stop diamonds linked
to conflict from entering the market?
First of all the industry needs to stop lying to the public by claiming diamonds that generate revenue use to fund human rights violations by government forces are conflict-free. The ridiculously inept bogus System of Warranties should be scrapped immediately. Even Ceceila Gardner, who until recently was senior council for the World Diamond Council, the body that introduced the System, has admitted that the term conflict-free “is so vague as to have no real meaning”.
What would you like to see the UK jewellery industry doing?
The UK Jewellery industry is an influential voice in the global diamond industry and as such could be a force for good if it chooses to do the right thing. That of course would mean standing up to the powerful lobby that attacked Retail Jeweller and wants people to ignore the fact that the diamond industry remains a lucrative source of funding for vile regimes guilty of gross human rights violations. I don’t believe those people represent the majority view within the British jewellery industry. Most jewellers want to disassociate their businesses from any and all human rights violations for once and for all. Given the existing structure of the Kimberley Process where every member country has a veto I don’t think that organisation will be able to bring about the reforms necessary to an end to the trade in blood diamonds unless vetoes are abolished and some form of majority voting is adopted.
Even the World Diamond Council attempt in 2015 to reform the KP definition of a “conflict diamond” to include human rights violations linked to trading centres was blocked by Israel because “it could be disastrous for trading centres, especially to Israel”. That clearly shows that the industry is well aware of the human rights violations in the supply pipe downstream of the mining sector but Israel is blocking reforms and holding the entire jewellery industry hostage.
In cases were a direct link, like the one in the Tiffanys article, hasn’t been established do you have an objection to Israeli diamonds?
Yes, as the diamond industry in Israel is a major source of funding for an apartheid regime guilty of the proliferation of unregulated nuclear weapons and serial violation of the human rights of the Palestinian people including suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity all diamonds exported from Israel should be consider blood diamonds and banned.
How do you monitor the impact of your activism?
I don’t have the means or resources to monitor the impact of our campaign but I know that as a result of our efforts a lot more people are now aware of the extent to which blood diamonds continue to fund human rights violations of oppressed people in Palestine and Africa. And tens of thousands of people in involved in Palestine solidarity campaigns worldwide have a much greater awareness of how important the diamond industry is as a source of funding for the apartheid regime in Israel, it’s nuclear weapons industry and brutal subjugation of the