The long and ... shining road from Maendeleo Diamond to My Fair Diamond

The long and ... shining road from Maendeleo Diamond to My Fair Diamond

Farandu, Sierra Leone is a long way from Antwerp, Belgium … and from Ottawa, Canada, for that matter. But the road that connects them is proof that diamond jewelry can be traced to its source, even if that source is a pit in a remote community in Africa.

And beyond traceability, it is now possible for every stop along the way to be demonstrably ethical and responsible.

The Diamond Development Initiative works in the diamond-rich Kono district of Sierra Leone, where diggers use shovels and sieves in the laborious search for the stones that allow them to eke out their living. Working conditions may be hazardous and children may be present on the sites. There is often no regard for health and sanitation, or for the environmental impact of the mining operations. And if somebody does find a diamond, it is handed over to a site operator or supporter, who takes cash from the nearest trader and pockets the profit.

In an effort to address these issues, DDI has established the Maendeleo Diamond Standards (MDS). In mining operations around the Kono district, including Farandu, miners and site operators are trained on important issues such as worker safety, respect of human rights and environmental sustainability. DDI coaches and mentors the miners as they learn to apply the new standards, and prepare for assessment. A third-party auditor then verifies their compliance, and recommends their operation – or not – for MDS certification.

The diamonds that are produced by trained artisanal miners in MDS compliant operations become Maendeleo Diamonds, certified as being ethically produced.

But responsible production is not enough. In order to integrate artisanal mining – which often operates on the informal margins – into the formal economy, one of the goals of the MDS program is to offer artisanal miners access to international markets.

The obvious win of international sales is the possibility of better prices for artisanally produced diamonds, and the possibility of responding to conscientious consumers with a unique, clean product. But the road from mine to consumer has always been a long and winding one.

Enter CAP Source. A sustainable diamond company based in Belgium, CAP Source’s purpose is to generate a positive impact at each step of the value chain. This means going beyond “conflict-free”, by sourcing ethical diamonds that contribute to local development, and taking them through the value chain all the way to retail with the same ethical care.

Marie d’Huart, co-founder of CAP Source is driven by the possibilities. “We can buy Maendeleo diamonds from a mine we have visited, from miners we have met. Then we choose the people who cut and polish the stones, people with sustainability convictions. We have them set in custom designs, using fair-mined gold. The whole chain is traceable, ethical, and personal.”

The final product is the “My Fair Diamond” jewelry line, the first of its kind, but with the determination of two organizations like DDI and CAP Source, certainly not the last.

The inaugural collection, aptly named after Farandu, the mine at the source of the diamonds, is currently on show. The DIVA Antwerp Museum has purchased the largest ring containing the three diamonds, called “Couronne”, as a testament to the responsible operations of the diamond diggers in Farandu, and all the people who moved those stones along the road to becoming unique, ethical, mine-to-finger luxury jewelry.