Visitors to Sierra Leone observe the progress in MDS mining sites

Visitors to Sierra Leone observe the progress in MDS mining sites

Chief Sahr Kondeh, license-holder of the Small Sefadu mining site in Kono District, Sierra Leone, grinned and nodded proudly as he accepted his MDS certificate. His artisanal mining operation had been assessed and certified as compliant with Maendeleo Diamond Standards (MDS) in early May, and now getting this confirmation in front of other miners, DDI staff and international visitors from the diamond and jewelry industry was a special honour.

Nine people from five diamond companies had made the trip to the Kono District in Sierra Leone to see DDI’s work on the ground or to buy Maendeleo Diamonds. And although some last-minute bureaucratic wrangling over export prevented the sale from taking place, the visitors all had the opportunity to learn more about the artisanal diamond mining supply chain, meet miners personally and see first-hand the impact of the MDS program.

The Maendeleo Diamond Standards certification system is a unique effort to support artisanal diamond miners by introducing them to better mining practices and principles, and ensuring their inclusion in the broader process of promoting responsible supply chains.

Workers at 14 remote mining sites in the diamond-rich Koidu district of Sierra Leone have been trained on the standards and 13 of the sites have now been certified MDS-compliant based on a third-party audit. This means that diamonds produced at these sites have been mined responsibly and ethically, and will begin to respond to the growing demand for ethical products from discerning consumers.

The visit to Sierra Leone included meeting with supporters and stakeholders, as well as travelling to six remote artisanal mining sites. People with decades of experience in trading, manufacturing and retailing diamonds were able to see for the first time how artisanal diamonds are mined, in what conditions, and at what human cost.

The diggers and site operators welcomed the visitors warmly. They explained that improvements in their mining techniques, hygiene and safety, and equipment were making a big difference. They proudly showed their First Aid kits and new gloves, items that were not available to them before the MDS program.

According to Joseph Mboka, DDI Project Manager in Sierra Leone, these miners have very little to begin with. “It may be hard for people from the outside to imagine how poor the diggers are and how rudimentary the mining operations. We are starting at a low baseline, at the very bottom of the mountain, and helping them to slowly climb to a level of higher production standards and a better life.”

For Ainsley Butler, program director at DDI, the commitment to follow the Maendeleo Diamond Standards and change their practices was significant.

“These miners have been working the same way for many years. Their lives are not easy and they are looking for ways to improve their conditions. We were thrilled to see how eager they are to make the effort. The progressive nature of the Maendeleo Diamond Standards means they will always have something to work towards.”

DDI gratefully acknowledges the support of GIZ and the Tiffany & Co. Foundation for the current operations of the MDS program in Sierra Leone.