Industry Update: Calls for Fairer Trade in Diamonds Will Revive Ethics Debate

By David Brough

A fairer trade in diamonds would secure a better livelihood for the world’s poorest diamond diggers, boost sales to Millennial consumers and help to even out the debate over ethical production of natural and lab-grown stones.

Both types of diamond production need to co-habit in clearly segmented markets, for which demand looks likely to grow healthily around the world in the coming years as affluent Millennials develop their taste for luxury and demand high ethical standards.

But it is inappropriate for one side of the diamond market to claim the moral high ground over the other.

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Those advocates of lab-grown diamonds who say consumers should not buy natural diamonds on the grounds that they are brutally extracted or that they harm the environment, may have no regard for the livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable diamond diggers, like those making the most meagre of livings in Sierra Leone.

If the real question is how to produce diamonds in a sustainable way that maximises fair market opportunities for all, then creating a fair trade in diamonds, giving diggers and miners better incomes and improved local infrastructure such as accommodation, schools and clinics, could be one way forward.

Martin Rapaport, a leading figure in the global diamonds trade, has boldly said: “Those who issue blanket statements and marketing initiatives that claim synthetic diamonds are more ethical than natural diamonds, are liars.

“Instead of helping diggers become socially responsible and supporting fair trade diamonds, they are telling people not to buy from diggers. That is evil.”

Fair trade in diamonds has not taken off in a significant way so far despite some attempts, while there has been more notable success in fair trade in other commodities such as gold, silver, coffee and bananas.

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Those initiatives have led in many cases to better livelihoods for many artisanal miners and growers, who have benefited from improved working conditions, local facilities and incomes, with a sustainable production and careful tracking of output from origin to market.

There is a sense that Millennial consumers will buy into lab-grown diamonds because production does not degrade the environment, embraces the latest technologies, and involves no risk of coming from conflict areas.

As Martin Rapaport has said: “While traditional diamond dealers and jewellers are still unsure whether or not to sell synthetics, some forward-thinking firms believe that synthetic diamond jewellery is the wave of the future and that Millennials will prefer synthetics to the real thing. It would be wrong to criticise synthetic diamonds because they are not natural diamonds. Markets and consumers should be offered the broadest basket of products and services.”

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While it is perfectly justifiable for manufacturers of lab-grown diamonds to profit from their production, marketers need to stay well clear of any outlandish claims that their product is more ethical than natural diamonds, and there should be a fresh impetus looking at ways to bring better livelihoods to the world’s poorest diggers and miners.

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David Brough is IJL’s Precious Metals and Gems Editor. David is Co-Founder and Editor of digital magazine Jewellery Outlook and writes monthly precious metals and gemstones Market News for Retail Jeweller magazine. He was a Reuters correspondent and editor for more than 30 years, including 16 years as a foreign correspondent, and covered commodity markets extensively. David won the United Nations A.H. Boerma Award in 2002-3 for his reporting on hunger issues. He graduated from St. Andrews University in Scotland with a MA (Hons) in Economics and French, and has a Certificate in Financial Markets from the Securities Institute of Australia. He speaks fluent French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

One comment

  1. Kathryn Kelly says:

    A very enlightening post and accompanying video. When more and more of the products we buy are becoming fair trade, I hope that the diamond industry begins to follow suit.

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