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Katie Fewings - founder of Ethical Weddings

Supplier Focus: No more guarantees? Conflict diamonds & accreditation schemes

by Katie Fewings

Accreditation schemes and group commitments can be a great thing when done properly.

You know that your strong ethics are the backbone of your business – but explaining these to your clients can take a lot of work and a lot of words.

Sometimes the symbol (and link to website) of a relevant accreditation scheme or commitment that validates what you're already doing – from the Soil Association to the Fairtrade Foundation - can say more and say it better than you could on your own.

It tells potential clients that you meet certain criteria (and must continue to meet them), that you’re part of a bigger movement for change, and that they are making a difference by supporting you.

But what happens when the credentials of that accreditation crumble?

The Kimberley Process could be a case in point. When conflict diamonds first came to the public’s attention there was confusion. How was the naive engagement ring hunter supposed to know if the diamond in this small token of love had helped to fund a bloody war?

Wedding rings

Then the Kimberley Process (KP) was created with its scheme to certify rough diamonds as ‘conflict-free’. The message was clear – you want a conflict-free diamond? Ditch the long list of complicated questions (to which you might not understand the answers) and ask if it has been certified by the Kimberley Process.

And then the chinks in the KP’s armour started to appear. In 2010, human rights abuses in Zimbabwe led many to question the country’s place in the KP – and the narrow scope of the ‘conflict diamond’ definition.

Conflict diamonds or blood diamonds?

As JCK Magazine reported in its article 'The 'Other' Blood Diamonds':

But most consumers don’t use the term conflict diamonds. They say blood diamonds. The two terms are generally considered interchangeable, but there is no generally accepted definition of blood diamond. I think most would define it as a diamond whose extraction is directly associated with blood, whether that’s because of a war (the traditional conflict diamond definition), or other kinds of violence.

Israeli Blood Diamonds campaign

At the end of 2010, ethical jewellers Ingle & Rhode wrote for Ethical Weddings on what they considered to be ‘The death of the Kimberley Process’ highlighting how a rough diamond could be certified ‘conflict-free’ from one country but cut, polished and sold into the wholesale market elsewhere with no further checks.

This particular loophole was jumped on by the Boycott Israeli Diamonds Campaign in the summer last year when they said:

Every year, consumers the world over unwittingly spend billions of dollars on diamonds crafted in Israel, thereby helping to fund one of the world’s most protracted and contentious conflicts. Most people are unaware that Israel is one of the world’s leading producers of cut and polished diamonds.”

Finally, at the end of 2011 came the news that Global Witness, one of the founders of the Kimberley Process, had withdrawn from it. Which begs the question: does it mean anything anymore?

What can you do?

In many ways it’s back to the drawing board. The Ethics Committee formed in March last year by the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and the British Jewellers’ Association (BJA) is recommending caution over the origin of all diamonds.

The CEO of NAG said:

The BJA and NAG have long advocated their memberships take every reasonable precaution in diligently checking the provenance of the diamonds used in British made jewellery”.

Go beyond the Kimberley Process - tell your clients the extra steps you are taking to be as transparent as possible and ensure their diamonds are not contaminated by blood.

  • Use alternative precious stones - if you can be sure of their provenance (read 'Seeing red - Free Greenland Ruby' for ethical issues with another precious stone)
  • Don’t forget the rest of the ring - are you using recycled precious metals? Do you sell or remodel vintage rings? Can you offer Fairtrade and Fairmined gold?
  • Tell the client either as you go through the process or in a leaflet that accompanies their purchase and they will soon spread the word so that their contemporaries expect and demand the same.

Lessons for us all

While the Kimberley Process applies specifically to the jewellery industry we should all keep a close eye on the accreditation schemes and commitments we sign up to to make sure they are still delivering on their promises.

We can’t afford to become complacent.

Over to you

In your opinion, what are the most trustworthy accreditation schemes relevant to the wedding sector?

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