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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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It's important to understand our role in this as well. We are not doing this work ourselves; other organizations have been working for years in these areas and know how to do it best. We are working with a few nonprofits that we feel are doing solid work and that need funding. We think we can help these organizations do what they do best by providing them with a reliable source of capital.

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I also think it's important to point out again that The Clarity Project is just getting started. We have invested a lot of energy, hours, and personal income to develop the business. We have not taken loans, or salary, and initially all development was paid for by us three founders. As we started to generate sales, we saved up some working capital, and are currently implementing a process for posting a quarterly score card of our giving -- what we are reinvesting, to whom, and the impact. This all comes back to our goal of transparency and fairness, in our broader effort to do what most benefits miners and their communities.

JM: Why do you think there aren't more companies, especially those already established in the business, doing the same?

TCP: In some ways this is an easy question – because it's really hard. But it's actually a question we've thought about a lot and have asked ourselves from the very beginning. In fact, this is why we created The Clarity Project. When we were first doing our research into the industry, we were kind of flabbergasted that there was nobody else doing this. We kept looking and looking, but couldn't find anyone. I think this is for a couple reasons – basically it's a tough industry to break into, and most people and companies are in the business to make money. For many of them it's working well – they're making tons of money, so why fix what ain't broken? Certainly some are making good improvements, but by their nature, they are slow to change. Many larger companies also face an additional challenge of bifurcating their inventories. How do they distinguish between "fair" diamonds, and those other things they sell...? It's a tough one.

We are just fundamentally different, and I think it's a product of our generation, location, and community. We three cofounders are childhood friends, and for us, this is a project started simply to meet our needs and the needs of our closest friends. ... We have not paid ourselves anything (although, clearly for this project to be sustainable we will need to at some point) and we each still have our day jobs. And ironically, this has worked to our advantage. And because we're starting from scratch and aren't in it just to get rich, we don't have to overcome the reputation issues that a lot of for-profit and better established jewelry companies are saddled with.... At its heart, this is activism, and in this case, I really think our sincerity shines through.

For some good background reading on conflict free diamonds and industry efforts at social responsibility, see Fair Jewellry Action. (Yes – that's actually how they spell it.)

-- Jina Moore blogs at To Africa, from New York.

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