ABOVE: The first African Diamond Conference, co-organized by the AWDC and the Belgian government in Brussels in November 2017.

This article is the second in an ongoing series, which shines a light on grass-roots capacity-building and sustainability programs initiated by WDC members to support communities where diamonds are mined, processed and traded.

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who first introduced his government’s beneficiation policy at a conference in Antwerp in 2004, photographed during the first African Diamond Conference in Brussels in November 2017.

A defining moment in the history of the diamond industry took place in November 2004, during a conference in Antwerp organized by the Diamond High Council (HRD), a founding member of the WDC and the forerunner of today’s Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC). A keynote speaker was Thabo Mbeki, then-president of the Republic of South Africa, who spoke for the first time of a new economic initiative adopted by his government.

“I believe that it is both incumbent upon and would be of benefit to the international diamond industry to support and invest in the beneficiation and value-adding projects in African diamond producing countries, to ensure economic sustainability beyond the depletion of the diamond resources.” Mbeki told the audience of industry professionals.

“I am certain that you who are gathered here and the millions in Africa whose countries happen to have diamond deposits share a common interest to eradicate any negative image that might attach to diamonds. Therefore, together we should do the things that would make it natural for us as Africans to speak of diamonds as a blessing, and heartily to sing the song we are still to compose – ‘Diamonds are Africa’s best friend,’” the South African president said.

The Antwerp conference took place less than two years after the introduction of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which already was having a marked effect on the levels of conflict diamonds present in the diamond value chain. However, while peace was returning to many of the countries affected by the conflict diamond crisis, economic recovery did not necessarily follow. Some diamond-producing countries with mostly artisanal mining activity struggled under KPCS rules, which raised often difficult-to-surmount obstacles for informal miners.

The challenges faced by Africa’s artisanal diamond miners has remained a key concern of the AWDC, the umbrella organization that represents all the various sectors of the Belgian diamond industry.

Underwriting a considerable part of the research and development conducted by the WDC on behalf of the Kimberley Process, the AWDC has trained industry  and government specialists from across the African continent. Antwerp, which is the world’s largest trading and distribution hub for rough diamonds, has long been committed to sharing its knowledge and expertise with the producing countries with which it is connected.

With the Belgian government as a co-sponsor, the AWDC organized the first African Diamond Conference in 2017, which brought together leaders and policy makers from most of the region’s producing nations to discuss key issues important to those countries. As a result of its success, a second African Diamond Conference will be held in South Africa next year.

‘My Fair Diamond,’ a line of jewelry designed and manufactured in Belgium, using diamonds mined from artisanal sources in the Koidu region of Sierra Leone, which have been certified by the Diamond Development Initiative as being compliant with the Maendeleo Diamond Standards. 

In 2015, AWDC began a cooperation with CAP Conseil, a Belgian sustainable development consulting company, with the initial goal of establishing a jewelry project, called “My Fair Diamond,” whose artisanally-mined stones would be “ethical” and traceable.

To qualify as “ethical,” the diamonds were sourced from artisanal miners operating in the Koidu region of eastern Sierra Leone, in areas that have been certified by the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) as being compliant with the Maendeleo Diamond Standards (MDS). These verify that essential human rights are respected, the health and safety of workers are protected, and the environment conserved. Importantly, artisanal diamonds sourced in an MDS-certified region are considered Kimberley Process-compliant, thus enabling local mining communities to derive benefit from their development potential.

The AWDC supported the “My Fair Diamond” project financially, and also provided logistical expertise. All the rough stones purchased in Sierra Leone were cut and laser-inscribed in Antwerp, where they were set in custom-designed and manufactured jewelry, created from fair mined-certified gold from Peru.  The finished pieces were stamped with the “My Fair Diamond” hallmark.

The first collection of “My Fair Diamond” jewels was presented to the market in 2017.

AWDC’s latest  capacity-building venture with CAP Conseil is to create a traceable supply chain of diamonds mined from MDS-compliant artisanal sources in the Republic of Guinea, which will made available to the trade in Antwerp.

Buoyed by the success of the venture, AWDC has initiated an even more ambitious project, once again together with CAP Conseil. Its goal is to create a traceable supply chain of “ethical” diamonds, mined from artisanal sources in the Republic of Guinea in West Africa that have been certified as MDS-compliant, and then made available to the trade in Antwerp.

It is intended that the project will comply fully with the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, and the International Labor Organization’s Practical Guidelines on Safety and Health in Open-Cast Mines.

After an exploratory mission to Guinea at the end of last year, in June 2019 Cap Conseil commissioned Insuco, a research body headquartered in the capital city of Conakry, to survey the diamond-mining area in the Banankoro region of the country, where most of the known deposits are located, and also the Kindia area, where diamond mining is a more recent phenomenon. Local NGOs are currently being canvassed to support the monitoring of responsible mining standards and the certification of diamonds, as well as assisting in local development projects.

At the same a time, a support structure is being planned in Antwerp. It will include diamond dealers and manufacturers interested in handling the artisanal diamonds sourced in Guinea, jewelers who will design and manufacture items set with certified stones, and investors willing to support the capacity-building project.

If all goes as planned, the first parcels of ethically-sourced rough diamonds from Guinea, traceable all the way back to the artisanal miners who discovered them, will reach the market during the course of 2020.

From the series