Was 2014 a good or a bad year for the issues that we care about at Brilliant Earth? Like most years, the story was mixed. But we think it’s important for jewelry consumers to know both the good and the bad. So let’s have a brief look at some of the top stories on each side of the equation.
First, the Bad News…
As usual, lots of news concerned us. Angola, a country with plenty of bloodshed in its own diamond fields, was selected to lead the Kimberley Process, supposedly the world’s blood diamond watchdog. People evicted from a valuable diamond field in Zimbabwe are still hungry and impoverished. In Guatemala, tensions flared between mining interests and indigenous communities.
Some of the news was even more serious. A gold-fueled war continued in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Separately, a gold and diamond-funded conflict in the Central African Republic entered its second year. So far the conflict has displaced a million people and led to at least 5,000 deaths. This month, Save the Children announced that 10,000 children in the Central African Republic have been conscripted as child soldiers.
And then there was the Ebola crisis. The three hardest-hit countries—Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea—are also diamond-producers. Although the crisis hasn’t caused as much loss of life as the worst projections, Ebola still represents the most serious challenge faced by Sierra Leone and Liberia since the end of diamond-funded civil wars in those countries. Ebola has also been a setback for Brilliant Earth-funded programs in Sierra Leone aimed at improving conditions in artisanal diamond mining. To help fight Ebola, Brilliant Earth raised money for the International Rescue Committee in October.
But There Was Good News Too
In 2014, there were also plenty of bright spots. We saw evidence, for example, that companies are redefining their missions to incorporate social responsibility. Intel in January announced that all of its computer chips are conflict free. CVS announced in February that it would stop selling cigarettes and dedicate itself to improving its customers’ health. Large, publicly-traded companies, including some jewelry retailers, in May complied with an important new conflict minerals disclosure rule. Lots of other companies are making a difference too. Business Insider in August named the “20 Most Inspiring Companies of 2014.” We were honored to be chosen as one of them.
Two stories stand out to us as especially good news. The first is the lifting of a United Nations ban on the export of diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire. The country, which endured war and instability for nearly a decade, is now finally at peace. The lifting of the ban provides an opportunity for an innovative U.S. government-funded development program to go ahead with plans to help raise labor and environmental standards for the country’s artisanal diamond diggers.
This year, a major advance was also made in the effort to raise standards in industrial mining. The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA), a multi-stakeholder coalition, in July released a draft set of voluntary labor and environmental standards for the mining industry. The IRMA standards took eight years to develop and are probably the most rigorous set of standards ever developed for mining companies. We’ve provided feedback to IRMA on its draft and can’t wait to see the standards implemented. When that happens, it will make a big difference for workers, communities, and the environment.
It may take a long time before all precious metals and gems are mined in a socially and environmentally responsible way. But every year, we see progress towards that goal. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”