The indelicate balance of ethics against profit

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01 november 2021

Don’t we owe it to Millennials and Generation Z to tell them the truth about natural diamonds?

03 november 2021

15 years ago, civil rights activist Dr. Benjamin Chavis, one of the co-founders of the non-for-profit organisation Diamonds Do Good1, met with Nelson Mandela, and the great man personally asked the good doctor to help “to raise more awareness about the benefits to Africa that are derived from the good that diamonds do.2”.

Funded by the natural diamond industry, Diamonds Do Good recently gave donations to the Flaviana Matata Foundation in Tanzania (set up by supermodel Flavia Matata to support education and empowerment for girls) as well as to Sentebale (set up Prince Harry to supports the wellbeing and mental health of young people afflicted with HIV in Lesotho and Botswana).  It plays to a lot of the many good news stories about natural diamonds and for an industry that produces the ultimate luxury, it makes sense that Social Purpose and Sustainability are so often central to what they do.

So why aren’t consumers hearing more about good news stories like Diamonds Do Good? To some extent, it’s the fault of our industry, which remains fixated with the 4 “C’s of Carat weight, Cut, Colour and Clarity, and has been slow to grasp the need to talk to today’s new consumers about the fifth “C”; Community. The good news is that there are some great stories to tell, because natural diamonds make a huge financial, environmental, and social contribution to almost all the countries in which they are found. But maybe these good news stories are being undercut by another, very worrying narrative. A narrative which is being peddled by a handful of lab-grown companies predominantly (but not exclusively) in the US, who publish inaccurate information, and/or through innuendo and misrepresentation denigrate the natural diamond story, tarring the whole industry with the same brush; (please see the second half of this article under the heading; A lie will fly twice around the whole world while the truth is still getting its boots onfor examples).

Why this anti-natural diamond agenda is so disappointing is that the IGDA (International Grown Diamond Association) trade body has stated that one of its key roles was “to promote a marketplace where truthful, accurate, and non-misleading information can appropriately be conveyed to consumers about our members’ laboratory-grown diamond products and practices3”.       

Incidentally, I opened a page on the IGDA website entitled “Ethical Sustainable Choice”, and there’s a pretty unattractive photo of a number of explosive blasts happening in a huge open pit mine, with the overlay… “Land Impact. 2.63 tonnes of mineral waste is disposed when extracting a carat of diamond4”. Two very important points worth thinking about: -

1. Firstly, sustainability isn’t only about the environment – maybe fifty years ago that was all it stood for, but not today; today it’s a balance including not just environmental (and I’m ignoring the fact that kimberlite absorbs carbon emissions or a company like De Beers is moving towards being carbon neutral), but also about benefitting people. Where you choose to see only a big hole, we also see schools, hospitals, and employment, thriving communities and protected wildlife. You don’t stop everyone driving today because their cars use petrol; you don’t close every school and hospital because they need electricity which may be sourced from fossil fuels. What you do is work towards a long-term solution that benefits everyone.

2. Secondly, I’ve been racking my brain to identify the diamond mine in the photo, except that it simply doesn’t look like any diamond mine that I’ve seen… FOUND IT!!! It seems to be a photograph from a slightly different angle of a blast at the Stoilensky iron ore mine5 in the Belgorod region of western Russia… which has absolutely nothing to do with diamonds. That’s really not very clever.

3.

analyt_03112021_1.png
Figure 1 (LHS): Photo taken from “ethical sustainable choice” from the International Grown Diamond Association.
Association website. www.theigda.org/ethical-sustainble-choice (*their spelling mistake)
Figure 2 (RHS): "Blasting Works". Photo taken from the Stoilensky Iron Ore Mine multimedia page. www.sgok.nlmk.com/en/media-center/multimedia/blasting-works.

But let’s move on, because there is something far more important at stake. Actions have consequences, even if they are unintentional, consequences for people who deserve better, and many of whom are not able to defend themselves.

The first point should be blindingly obvious: Lab-grown diamonds have every right to exist, and to succeed, but their success has been riding on the coattails of natural diamonds. If the bad apples in the lab-grown industry continue to undermine the desirability of natural diamonds, the consumer is going to lose interest in all diamonds, especially lab-grown diamonds. Put one bad apple in a barrel of good apples and unless you quickly pick it out, the whole barrel eventually gets thrown away.

But there’s also something much more fundamental at play…. If anyone successfully undermines the natural diamond industry, who are the people who really get hurt? Put that another way; where do most of the world’s natural diamonds come from? They come from Africa, where they make a huge social and financial contribution to the communities in which they operate, but let’s leave the benefits aside for a moment, even if it is a huge differentiator, because that is still missing the main point

That point is that when you seek to undermine the natural diamond industry for profit, the people who primarily get harmed are millions of ordinary people who work in the industry, whole families with real lives, real dreams, real hopes, and real fears, communities, countries even, who rely on the revenues from natural diamonds to live, sometimes just to survive, sometimes to try to better their lives… they are Black Africans. 

Please don’t pretend it’s only big companies like De Beers that get hurt; even in Botswana where they have a 50:50 Joint Venture (Debswana) with the government, they only receive just under 19% of the profits… the rest gets ploughed back into the country… into roads, schools, hospitals and so on. The vast majority of Debswana’s workers at every level are Black Africans. The local businesses who supply them are run by Black Africans - natural diamonds are vital to the life of Botswana the country. The miners in South Africa are Black Africans. The 1.5 million artisanal diamond diggers in west Africa are Black Africans. In their case, when someone undermines their very livelihoods, what you are really doing is further marginalising some of the already most marginalised people on the planet, and you are doing it for profit… why is that okay?  If you think it is, then please get on an airplane, fly to Sierra Leone (which today is a democracy) and ask the people employed in kimberlite and artisanal diamond mining whether they will be pleased if you get to close their industry down, destroy their jobs and livelihoods, but you might also add that you will be able to increase your own profits… I am pretty sure you won’t get the answer you want. The diamond industry isn’t perfect; few industries are, but it’s making huge efforts to go in the right direction, and its social contribution to the peoples of Africa is simply irrefutable.

Nelson Mandela wanted people to hear how natural diamonds had benefitted Africa. To those in the US lab-grown industry who think it is acceptable business practice to undermine natural diamonds using innuendo and insinuation, sometimes by being disingenuous, sometimes it might be more accurate to say simply by being dishonest, there is a very simple message. A year after the death of Geroge Floyd, Black Lives shouldn’t just matter for Americans in America. They should matter everywhere.

Examples: “A lie will fly twice around the whole world while the truth is still getting its boots on” Mark Twain.

US online retailer “12 Fifteen6” are a case in point. “A one-carat mined diamond is the product of over 87,000 pounds7 of displaced earthThat’s no small impact. In fact, there are more than 10,000 abandoned mines in Canada alone. Do the research and you’ll find that there is no reason to buy mined. Not now. Not ever8. I did the research. Canada has three producing and two closed diamond mines, all of which make, or made, significant contributions to their local communities. The other 9,998 so-called “abandoned mines” never had anything to do with diamonds.

Partner company Diamond Nexus9 warns consumers to avoid Canadian diamonds… “Whatever dollars you spend on a Canadian diamond prop-up the market for African diamonds10”…  As for the environmental damage… “Every day, Canadian mines produce one million tons of waste rock and 950,000 tons of tailings, which are finely ground rocks and minerals from processing extracted materials like diamonds”. Except if you check the source documents11 you discover that the waste rock and tailings figures they quote refer to the entire Canadian mining sector12.

Diamond Nexus further warns that “Native people fear that the animals (caribou and muskoxen) will eat vegetation that grows near tailings ponds—which could introduce toxic heavy metals into the food chain”. But when you check the source article, you discover that it’s an article about gold and lead zinc mining, not diamond mining13.

Both 12Fifteen and Diamond Nexus are part of the Forever Group of companies, with their office in Franklin Wisconsin. Forever lets consumers know that “As soon as any land mining or ocean dredging is part of the equation, some amount of evil comes with it14… an industry that was and continues to be rife with conflict, corruption, environmental abuse, and unsavoury consumer practices….15”. That’s a first nail in Africa’s coffin.

California based Diamond Foundry, who earlier this year gained headlines with a USD200 million capital injection from US financial giant Fidelity, lists what their lab-grown diamonds are “NOT”. I click on “No conflicts funded16” and it’s about… Russia… Really? Well according to Diamond Foundry40% of all diamonds sold at U.S. retail directly fund Putin's government” and that “…purchasing diamonds from Russia is a good way to show your support for Putin and his government”. I certainly didn’t know that. Let’s Fact check that number.

Accurate statistics for Russian diamonds purchased by US consumers don’t exist, and as a proportion of global production at no time during the last ten years did Russia even produce 40% of the world’s natural diamonds by weight or value17. Additionally, diamonds sold at retail in the US are predominantly already set in jewellery and the price includes the cost of polishing, the jewellery setting, the gold or platinum, wholesale jewellery margins, retail mark-ups…etc18, virtually none of which is Russian. So once again, how can we verify this 40% figure?

So I took diamond producer Alrosa as the proxy for Russian diamond production and assumed that since the US accounts for about half of world diamond jewellery consumption, half of Alrosa’s rough diamond production might end up in US diamond jewellery. Okay - Let’s do the maths. Half of Alrosa’s diamond sales in 2019 equals USD1.7 billion; half of US diamond jewellery sales that year equalled USD19.6 billion19. On that basis, 8% of US diamond jewellery sales were attributable to Alrosa... Alrosa, not the Russian Government. The Governments of Yukutia and Russia each own 33% of Alrosa and all the Federal Government in Moscow receives is its share of the tax and dividends paid by Alrosa… I know this because the figures are not just publicly available, the accounts are audited by PWC. In 2019, tax and dividends from Alrosa paid to the Federal Government in Moscow amounted to around USD499 million20… so if half of this was attributable to US diamond jewellery sales, that represents 0.6%21 of US diamond jewellery sales22 that …  “directly fund Putin's government” … not 40%. Incidentally, Alrosa’s other shareholders include mainstream US institutions23 like State Street, Vanguard, JP Morgan and Blackrock and Fidelity24. They seem to think it’s an investable company.

Diamond Foundry also states that,Tiffany doesn’t disclose that fact25” …what fact? That it buys diamonds from Russia? Yes, it does26.

Under the heading “No Land Displaced27”, is a chart entitled “Supply Chain Audit based on Diamond Source28, which shows that the largest environmental impact from “Mined Diamonds” comes from China. In 201929, China produced… 51 carats of natural diamonds… not 51,000, not 51,000,000, just 51! You could hold the entire annual production in the palm of one (very small) hand, yet this chart implies that China’s rough diamond production has more impact on land use than the 38.5 million carats produced by Alrosa, and higher air emissions than the rest of the world’s diamond production combined. Really? I note that China is the largest producer of lab-grown diamonds, much of the power from coal fired power stations… except this chart shows that the environmental impact of China’s lab-grown diamonds is…. you guessed it – tiny. 

analyt_03112021_2.png30

Under the heading “No Wildlife Displaced31” former Tiffany & Co. CEO Michael J. Kowalski is quoted from an interview with the New York Times discussing …” the treacherous consequences of mining …. in a piece about Bristol Bay Mining. Only if you check the source article do you learn the 2015 article “Gold isn’t worth the price” has nothing to do with diamond mining and is solely about Bristol Bay Mining which is a copper/gold mine project in Alaska.

Diamond Foundry retail partner The Clay Pot in New York State tells their customers that “a large portion of diamonds are anything but 'conflict free'. The diamond industry has long been linked to human-rights abuses, child labour, ecological destruction, untraceable origin, and cartel pricing32”.

Ironically if this hasn’t put you off natural diamonds completely, The Clay Pot directs you to a website called www.Diamondfacts.org33… which tells you that the trade in Conflict Diamonds has been virtually eliminated… and then proceeds to discuss all the benefits natural diamonds bring to people in developing countries…

Diamond Foundry also inform consumers that while their lab-grown diamonds have No Cartel Pricing, “Cartel pricing is why mined diamonds cost more34” and point out that there is price collusion in natural diamond pricing (and how it works35. There is no cartel pricing in natural diamonds. If there was, the US and European competition authorities would be on the case before you can say “This is horseshit”. But The Clay Pot echoes the sentiment… their lab-grown diamonds are 30-40% cheaper than…  “a large, high-quality mined diamond will be pricey no matter where you go, because that is a commodity that is controlled by outside forces36

Another Diamond Foundry partner, New York based Lori McClean fine jewelery goes straight for the jugular. “Frankly, the modern diamond industry is strife with misery. A large portion of diamonds are anything but 'conflict free'. They can play a part in funding violence and war, human rights abuses, poverty, and the environmental damage resulting from mining techniques and practices37. After reading this, would your typical consumer even consider buying a natural diamond… and why is that okay?

Diamond Foundry partner Vérité also sells “…Canadian-mined diamonds and gemstones. We believe these options are beyond conflict-free and avoid the human and environmental toll of mining38”. It’s a rather obvious question to which an answer is not proffered. How does a Canadian diamond mine avoid the “human and environmental toll of mining”, but a Botswanan diamond mine doesn’t… or let’s call it for what this is… there goes another nail in Africa’s coffin. 

Portland Oregon based Miadonna tell their potential customers, “Despite what the earth-mined diamond industry wants you to believe, the mining, distribution and sale of conflict diamonds is a still a major issue that needs to be addressed.  “TENS OF THOUSANDS of men, women, children, and infants are being tortured, raped and killed by rebels who are known to still be using conflict-diamonds as a source of funding39”. The fast growing De Beers Gemfair40 programme in west Africa connects artisanal and small-scale miners to the global market through digital technology and assurance of ethical working standards; it also ensures they received a fair value for their diamonds. My simple question is whether you think one if its members would feel that this sweeping statement of rape, torture and murder is today a fair way of depicting their product? I think not.

Connecticut based Clean Origin warns that “Diamond mines are also vulnerable to collapse and explosion and workers often see increased cancer risk, hearing loss, lung problems, and other health issues as a result of their professions. In 2010, 33 miners in Chile were stuck below ground in a collapsed mine for 69 days41”. Except, and I apologise if it seems a small point; there are no diamond mines in Chile and never have been. But Clean Origin are very clear…”After years of human suffering and ecological devastation, it is worth pausing to question why there would ever be a good reason to purchase a mined diamond. There isn’t42”.

Frugal Rings43, a Utah based online platform, informs consumers that “…mining is relatively expensive, but DeBeers has released public documents, for example, showing that their production costs (per carat) for mined diamonds hovers around $100. That means they’re being sold at retail for a 3,000% to 5,000% markup…not bad (for DeBeers)44 …”. 5,000%? Well, in 2019 De Beers average cost was USD96 per carat45 and the realised selling price was USD132 per carat.  A 5,000% mark-up on the cost of a diamond implies that a diamond sold at retail for USD5,000 only cost USD1 to mine, or put that another way, De Beers’ average diamond costing USD96 per carat to mine sells at retail for USD480,000 per carat. Really?! Someone may be smoking something … but when I checked, marijuana is only legal in Utah for medicinal purposes.

US lab-grown diamond retailer ADA Diamonds seems to make the argument that consumers have been misled by mining companies to believe that lab-grown diamonds are cheaper to produce than natural diamonds46the marginal cost to grow each diamond in a laboratory will always be greater than the cost for De Beers and other mining operations to dig diamonds out of the Earth47”. If ADA Diamonds meant that it costs more to grow a 2-carat lab-grown diamond than to recover a 0.01-carat natural diamond, that probably true. But the website doesn’t say that. Is it more expensive to grow a 1-carat lab-grown diamond than to recover a 1 carat natural diamond? Put simply. NO. 

… and so on and so forth goes the anti-natural diamond narrative, and while these examples are of some US lab-grown companies, they aren’t on their own. Its time it stopped, and I suspect consumers and everyone else in the diamond industry, would agree.

Richard Chetwode runs a diamond consultancy business. He is also Chairman of Namibian Diamond Mining Company Trustco Resources, is Chairman of the Advisory Board of Australian technology company www.Yourdiamonds.com as well as holding other non-executive directorships and consulting to several diamond (and other) businesses. All the opinions in this article are his own.


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1 Funded by the natural diamond industry, it was originally named the Diamond Empowerment Fund but changed its name in 2019 to better reflect its mission.
2 www.diamondsdogood.com/nungu-diamonds
3 Submission to the Federal Trade Commission. “Guides for the Jewelry, Precious Metals, and Pewter Industries, 81 Fed. Reg. 1349 (Jan. 12, 2016); FTC Project No. G711001”. Letter of 3rd June 2016. www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2016/06/00081-128251.pdf
4 www.theigda.org/ethical-sustainble-choice (the spelling mistake in the word “Sustainable” is theirs).
5 www.sgok.nlmk.com/en/media-center/multimedia/
612 Fifteen” are a retail partner of the International Diamond Growers Association (IDGA)
7 Works out as 39 tonnes.
8 “Lab Grown Diamonds vs Real Diamonds”. 12 Fifteen. www.1215diamonds.com/lab-grown-diamonds. 87,000 pounds is equal to about 39 tonnes.
9 www.diamondnexus.com
10 “Diamonds Are Forever Destructive - What’s the true cost of a corporate-mined diamond?”
www.diamondnexus.com/blog/environmental-impact/?utm_source=diamondnexus.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=Cross+Brand+Referral&utm_content=/lab-grown-diamonds
11 “There Is a New Climate Change Disaster Looming in Northern Canada” by James Wilt, www.vice.com. www.vice.com/en/article/jma4ab/this-is-the-looming-climate-change-disaster-in-canadas-north-that-no-one-is-talking-about
12 in 2019 the three diamond mines averaged 185,000 tonnes of waste and mined (and processed) 27,000 tonnes of kimberlite ore per day. Figures are rounded to the nearest thousand. Numbers divided by 365 days.
13 “There Is a New Climate Change Disaster Looming in Northern Canada” by James Wilt. Www.Vice.com. 12th January 2016. www.vice.com/en/article/jma4ab/this-is-the-looming-climate-change-disaster-in-canadas-north-that-no-one-is-talking-about .
14 “Here’s what we do differently. No Mined Stones. Period.
15 “We are a company because we are a movement. Changing the world,.. one beautiful piece of Jewelry at a time”. www.forevercompanies.com/our-story
16 “Putin's Diamonds: 40% of What U.S. Retailers Sell”. www.diamondfoundry.com/blogs/the-foundry-journal/putins-diamonds-40-of-what-u-s-retailers-sell
17 In fact over that period Russian production has averaged 25.6% (by value). From (and including) 2010 to 2019, the Russian Federation produced USD34.8 billion out of total global production of USD135.9 billion. Source: Kimberely Process Statistics. In 2020 the Russian Federation produced 31.186 million carats of diamond with a value of USD2.254 billion against global production of 107 million carats with a value of USD9.235 billion. Source: Kimberely Process 2020.  in 2019 the Russian Federation accounted for fractionally over 30%[1] of global production… in 2020 the figure fell to 24%.
18 Polished diamonds only make up 26% of the value of US diamond jewellery sales. In 2019, the value of polished diamonds sold in the US at Polished Wholesale Prices (PWP) were USD10.14bn versus retail sales of diamond jewellery of USD39.12bn.
19 The Tacy 2019 Diamond Pipeline by Pharos Consulting estimates that US diamond jewellery sales in 2019 were USD39.2 billion.  www.idexonline.com/Specials/2019_DiamondPipelineByPranayNarvekarAndChaimEvenZohar.pdf
20 I’ve used an average exchange rate of 64.5 Roubles to 1USD for Calendar 2019. Figures checked with City based financial analyst who follows Alrosa.
21 Assuming half of Alrosa’s diamonds sold in the US = half of Moscow Government’s tax and dividend from Alrosa = USD415 divided by 2 =  
22 You can be pernickety and say this only refers to diamonds, not diamond jewellery even though most consumers buy their diamonds already set in jewellery, but on that basis the value of diamonds consumed in the US using Polished Wholesale Prices is approximately USD10.14 billion. (www.idexonline.com/Specials/2019_DiamondPipeline) so the amount that gets to the Moscow Government would be around 4%.
23 “ALRS Institutional Ownership - Alrosa PJSC”. www.fintel.io/so/ru/alrs.
24 The non-Russian shareholders are represented by independent directors that they appoint.
25 www.diamondfoundry.com/blogs/the-foundry-journal/putins-diamonds-40-of-what-u-s-retailers-sell
26 “Responsible Sourcing”. www.tiffany.com/engagement/diamond-provenance
27 “Environmental Impact of Mining vs Aboveground”. www.diamondfoundry.com/blogs/the-foundry-journal/whats-the-environmental-impact-of-mined-vs-aboveground-diamonds
28 No source or date for the chart is included.
29 Kimberely Process Statistics. 2019.
30 Copied from www.diamondfoundry.com/blogs/the-foundry-journal/whats-the-environmental-impact-of-mined-vs-aboveground-diamonds. The additional text “In 2019, China produced only 51 carats of natural diamonds” and “China Lab-grown” and “US Lab-grown” were added by the author.
31 “Tiffany & Co CEO: Mining Has Huge Environmental”. www.diamondfoundry.com/blogs/the-foundry-journal/tiffany-co-ceo-mining-has-huge-environmental-footpr.... The interview was given in 2015.
32 Ethically Sourced Diamonds. The Clay Pot. www.clay-pot.com/pages/ethically-sourced-diamonds
33 www.Diamondfacts.org
34 “No Cartel Pricing”. www.diamondfoundry.com/pages/just-diamond
35 “How Price Collusion Works in the Diamond Mining Industry”. www.diamondfoundry.com/blogs/the-foundry-journal/how-price-collusion-works-in-the-diamond-mining-industry
36 Engagement Ring 101 – Everything you ever wanted to now about buying an engagement ring. The Clay Pot. www.clay-pot.com/pages/engagement-ring-101-everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-buying-an-engagement-ring
37 “Diamonds - Earth Mined”. www.lorimclean.com/pages/diamonds
38 Vérité Logistics. www.loveverite.com/faq-1
39 “Diamond consumers need to know the unfortunate truth. Conflict diamonds are not just a problem of the past – they still have a major presence in today's society. Conflict diamonds are continuing to flood out of Africa as well as other countries rich in diamonds like Brazil, Russia and India”. www.miadonna.com/pages/conflict-diamonds
40 www.gemfair.com
41 “Human Impact”. www.cleanorigin.com/en_gb/diamond-environmental-impact
42 “The Case For Lab Created Diamonds: Why Compromise?” www.cleanorigin.com/en_gb/about-mined-diamonds
43 Frugal Rings sells lab-grown diamonds as well as cubic zirconia and moissanite
44 “Why are diamonds so expensive”, www.frugalrings.com/cost-of-lab-diamonds-vs-natural-diamonds
45 Unit cost USD63 per carat; Royalties USD4 per carat; Other costs USD29 per carat. The USD132 per carat realised price is for De Beers’ proportionate share (19.2% Debswana, 50% Namibia) and excludes the 3% trading margin achieved in 2019
46 “There are many incorrect 'facts' promoted by the mined diamond lobby in order to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt about laboratory-grown diamonds”.The marginal cost to grow each diamond in a laboratory will always be greater than the cost for De Beers and other mining operations to dig diamonds out of the Earth”. www.adadiamonds.com/introduction-to-lab-diamonds.
47Why Ada's Diamonds are Less Expensive than Comparable Mined Diamonds” www.adadiamonds.com/synthetic-diamond-facts-and-misconceptions/why-are-lab-diamonds-cheaper