A fair trade approach to Africa's diamonds
A US company brings fair trade principles to Africa's diamond industry and aims to improve the life of diamond miners.
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TCP: We are developing strong relationships with a handful of mining initiatives across Namibia, South Africa, and Sierra Leone. Some mines are cooperatives and are community owned. Others are owned by small companies or single landholders. These types of artisanal, or small scale, mining projects are our ideal sources, where we feel we can have the biggest impact. In each case it is a process of reinforcing their good work while helping them move toward increasingly responsible practices. As you can probably imagine, it takes a long time to build trusting, productive relationships in this industry – with miners, their communities, and their allies. We work with our customers on an individual basis to inform them where their diamond came from.Skip to next paragraph
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JM: With no background in the business at first, how did you learn to do this?
TCP: We're actively educating ourselves – we're studying gemology and taking diamond evaluation and licensing courses. We also work with people we trust who can evaluate our stones.
JM: The diamond business doesn't seem all that warm and fuzzy; who did you get to teach you what you needed to know, and how?
TCP: There are people who have worked in the diamond industry for many years (literally decades) trying to get more socially responsible diamonds to market. We've had a few great mentors, one of which is a German geologist and anthropologist named Thomas. Coincidentally, he is a big fan of Mother Jones and recognized my name from the masthead when we first reached out to him. We instantly bonded. We've traveled with Thomas throughout several countries in Africa, and through him we've met a lot of incredibly inspiring people, with whom we've developed deep, trusting relationships. He's been kind enough to take us under his wing. There are several others too, and because the industry tends to be secretive, it's taken a lot of research and effort to build these relationships, and we value them immensely.
JM: What kind of premium can consumers expect to pay for the vetting you've done?
TCP: Our prices are comparable to high-end jewelers, but lower than the most high profile luxury brands. Our prices are higher than your typical department store, but this is mostly the result of the quality craftsmanship (rated excellent by New England Gem Lab) and not any fair trade or "vetting" premium.
There is a common misconception that because we cut out a lot of middlemen our prices should be lower. I understand this tendency, and it's something we're working to address. In reality, however, the mines we've been working with are implementing new social and environmental programs and their cost is built into the price of their stones, making up the difference.
We do not compete on price, as there is absolutely no way for us to compete with the cheap prices of the online world. That isn't our mission either, of course -- if we wanted to provide the lowest priced diamonds on the market, we would obviously be doing things very differently. We're on a whole other mission to maximize the benefit for miners and their communities.
To accomplish this, we go out of our way to provide our customers with stones that we are proud of, not only from a sourcing perspective, but also in terms of quality. We want to give our customers the best of all worlds. If our quality is inferior, people will stop purchasing from us and we will not succeed in our mission at all. Quality is a very important factor in driving success in the jewelry industry, and we want to exceed people's expectations.
JM: Are they also paying a little bit more because you reinvest the profits in the local community?