diamond miners in Bongema
Diamonds are one of nature's most beautiful and enduring creations. Formed deep within the Earth billions of years ago, and carried to the surface in mere moments by volcanoes, diamonds are a true testament to geologic majesty. Naturally, there is an honest reason why diamonds have captured the human imagination.
Despite major advances in the past ten years in the way that diamonds are mined and miners are treated, a great deal of controversy still exists around the topic of mined diamonds.
Diamonds, like so many precious resources, have been fought and bled over for centuries. Indeed, their sale has funded some of the most horrendous violence known to humanity. Today, problems with verifying the origins of diamonds persist, international borders remain porous, and middlemen are as desperate as ever.
As a result, Conflict Free diamonds, those that adhere to the well-known Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), have grown rapidly in popularity. Yet Conflict Free is just the tip of the iceberg. While helping to ensure that diamonds do not fund current conflicts, the Kimberley Process sidesteps fundamental issues like fair wages and child labor, and thus perpetuates underlying social imbalances that ultimately fuel the very conflicts it is meant to avoid.
The Clarity Project seeks to go beyond the Kimberley Process by offering fair prices directly to miners and bypassing the complex supply chain. We source the fairest natural diamonds on the market — our research is rigorous and ongoing, and we are constantly striving to improve.
The Clarity Project works directly with small mining and cutting cooperatives, and the communities that support them. Though there is currently no fair trade certification system for diamonds, we are collaborating with TransFair USA, the only third-party certifier of fair trade products in the United States, to establish optimal fair trade criteria for diamond mining cooperatives.
Our search for fair trade natural diamonds led us rather quickly to Martin Rapaport (as seen in Diamond Road), considered a maverick within the diamond industry for daring to publish a commercial diamond-pricing guide back in the 1970s. In recent years, he has led the charge to develop democratic artisanal mining cooperatives in West Africa. When we contacted Rapaport's Fair Trade Liaison, we were pointed to Thomas Siepelmeyer's one-man company, Fair Trade in Gems and Jewelry, which Rapaport believes to be "as fair trade (based on 'ecologically and socially responsible mining') as one can be."
After considerable research, The Clarity Project purchased its first diamonds in person from Thomas Siepelmeyer on March 28, 2009. For nearly three decades, Thomas, a respected German geologist and anthropologist, has been overcoming obstacles large and small in an effort to bring fair trade gemstones to market. In 1999, Thomas traveled to a women's mining cooperative in Lesotho where semi-retired miners worked with the government to ensure the fair pricing of their stones. With the government's assistance, the miners were able to bring their stones directly to an international auction, which The Clarity Project is proud to support.
In the ensuing years, Thomas made a series of direct purchases from the miners' cooperative, paying 25% of the final saleable value of the cut/polished stones on the spot. He then paid another 15% to a nascent diamond cutters' cooperative in Surat, India, that was in the process of achieving fair trade certification. In total, Thomas paid 40% of the saleable value of our stones to the miners and cutters — unheard of in the diamond industry, where miners might only receive 0.5-1% (or may be paid in food) and child cutters become indentured servants.
The largest obstacle to fair trade diamonds is demand. There are shovel-ready mines that could be opened if there were a strong and steady demand for their stones. Without a clear pathway from mine to market, the miners won't realize a steady income, and the cooperatives are likely to be forced to close, damaging the movement's viability as an alternative to conventional mining. Since Thomas' final purchase in 2006, both the miners' and the cutters' cooperatives have dissolved due to the industry's turbulence: The miners retired when a large foreign company purchased the mine, and the cutters' cooperative was forced to close as diamond prices and business dried up.
We see these developments as crucial lessons in our effort to build a responsible, stable, and diverse supply. While we see a strong and growing demand for fair trade jewelry, we recognize that there are serious obstacles to building a sustainable system to meet this demand. We know we cannot change the entire diamond industry, but we are committed to creating a clear, honest alternative. This is why The Clarity Project has taken the bold step as the first and only jewelry retailer to invest 100% of our profits back into mining communities.
As the US and global economies start to grow once again, forward-thinking mining and cutting projects that dissolved in the recession are beginning to return. The Clarity Project is following these initiatives closely, and we are excited to support them as they come online. For instance, in recent months, we have visited and begun working with several new small-scale, community mining initiatives in Lesotho, Namibia, Sierra Leone, South Africa. We are also proud to support a cutting and polishing school that trains and employs previously disadvantaged persons in South Africa and a similar Namibian facility. In addition to mining, cutting, and polishing, some of our jewelry is being designed at a small-business incubator that helps unemployed South Africans build and operate their own small businesses.
As these initiatives grow, The Clarity Project will continue to assist and support the local communities behind them. Given all the positive energy for these small-scale alternatives, we are very optimistic about the future of responsible sourcing. Indeed, we are committed to helping create that better future.