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Tiffany's supplier funds IDF unit accused of war crimes: jewellery industry awash with blood diamonds

The hypocrisy and double standards that permeate the jewellery industry when it comes to blood diamonds is laid bare when one examines the ethical credential of Tiffany’s diamonds, one of the world’s most prestigious jewellers.

Given Tiffany’s extensive corporate social responsibility endeavours, complete with reassuring soft-focus video, few would question the ethical provenance of the company’s diamonds. However, even cursory due diligence exposes the fact that one of Tiffany’s main diamond suppliers, Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, has, through the Steinmetz Foundation, “adopted” a unit of the notorious Givati Brigade of the Israel Defence Forces.

The Givati Brigade was responsible for the massacre of the Samouni family in Gaza in January 2009. One hundred members of the extended family were corralled at gunpoint into a house and bombed by the Israelis, killing at least 21 men, women and children. The massacre was described as a war crime by the UNHRC.

The Steinmetz Foundation funded and supported the Givati Brigade during the 2008/9 Israeli offensive – Operation Cast Lead – which killed at least 1,387 Palestinians. Those killed were mainly civilians; over three hundred of them were children.

Tiffany’s Sustainability Report 2014 outlines the measures that the company has in place to ensure the ethical integrity of its diamonds. Lurking behind the clouds of information, though, lies the reality that the Steinmetz Company funds and supports an army brigade guilty of gross human rights violations in Palestine.

Furthermore, the report reveals that Tiffany’s sources 25-35 per cent (by value) of its polished diamonds from third-party suppliers who comply with the World Diamond Councils’ System of Warranties (SOW). The SOW is a bogus scheme introduced to create the illusion that regulations governing the trade in rough diamonds extends to the cut and polished trade. They don’t. There are no laws or regulations banning the trade in cut and polished diamonds that fund regimes guilty of human rights violations.

While Tiffany’s has voiced support for those protecting human rights linked to the diamond industry in Zimbabwe and Angola, the company’s collaboration with and funding of a mining company that funds and supports suspected Israeli war criminals undermines its credibility and the claim that, “Tiffany’s has been aggressive about ensuring respect for human rights in its supply chain.”

It was, therefore, ironically appropriate that members of the international diamond regulatory body – the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme – gathered last week in a plenary session in Angola. The hypocrisy could hardly be more glaring. The body set up ostensibly to end the trade in blood diamonds is chaired in 2015 by Angola, where government forces are accused of grievous human rights violations linked to the diamond industry.

Also Read: $83 million diamond default: Sotheby's and Israeli war crimes

Earlier this year, the Angolan government prosecuted the award-winning journalist and author Rafael Marques de Mores for writing a book, Blood Diamonds: Corruption and Torture in Angola, which exposes numerous examples of murder, rape, mutilation, torture and corruption associated with the diamond mining sector.

According to data published by the Kimberley Process (KP), Angola exported $1.3 billion of rough diamonds in 2014, making it the world’s sixth largest producer of diamonds. Despite being linked to bloodshed and violence, diamonds from Angola are fully compliant with KP regulations which ban “conflict diamonds”; diamonds that fund violence by rebel groups. Bizarrely, there are no regulations banning blood diamonds used to fund rogue regimes guilty of human rights violations.

The much lauded, but woefully defective, Kimberley Process provides the perfect cover for the blood diamond trade. As a result, blood diamonds worth billions of dollars are laundered legally through the jewellery industry each year and sold to unsuspecting consumers as conflict-free gems.

In 2011, the refusal of the KP to broaden the definition of a “conflict diamond” to include blood diamonds which fund human rights violations by government forces, resulted in diamonds from the Marange area of Zimbabwe, where the military is reported to have killed 200 diamond miners, being allowed on to the international market. The NGO Global Witness withdrew immediately from the KP at the time.

The diamond industry trumpets loudly and consistently the benefits of the Kimberley Process, but no one should be fooled by this diversionary tactic which blinds consumers and journalists alike to the ongoing trade in blood diamonds. Such diamonds from Africa are mostly uncut rough diamonds but their bloody history doesn’t end there. As they move along the supply pipe, through grading and polishing centres, to the high value retail end, many of them are processed in Israel where they generate revenue for another rogue regime, one which ranks among the world’s worst human rights offenders.

African blood diamonds thus go on to fund a second wave of bloodshed and violence in occupied Palestine. However, the jewellery industry and NGOs turn a blind eye to these super blood gems.

Although Israel has no diamond mines of its own, it is a leading trading and polishing centre with exports worth $19.4 billion gross ($10 billion net) in 2013. The value of Israel’s net diamond exports is almost ten times that of Angola’s gross diamond exports and multiples of that for Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic (CAR) where revenue from diamonds also funds bloodshed and violence. Blood diamonds coming through Israel account for approximately 30 per cent of the global market share in value terms.

In October, it was reported that a proposal from the World Diamond Council to broaden the KP definition of a “conflict diamond” in order to ban diamonds from countries guilty of human rights violations, not just in the mining sector but in trading and polishing as well, was vetoed by Israel because, “It could be disastrous to trading centres, and especially to Israel.”

Amnesty International issued a report recently detailing how blood diamonds from the CAR are entering the legitimate market. The World Diamond Council and Kimberley Process dismissed the report and invited Amnesty to join their cosy cartel.

The human rights body has documented numerous examples of the slaying of innocent Palestinians by trigger-happy Israeli forces. In the past two months alone, over 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces and illegal settlers.

Read: Israel's unscathed diamond trade contributes to Palestinian oppression

During the recent Kimberley Process meeting in Angola, the Civil Society Coalition (CSC) in the KP, led by Partnership Africa Canada, announced it would boycott the process in 2016 when the United Arab Emirates will occupy the rotating KP chair. The CSC boycott arises from concerns over lax controls in Dubai which facilitate the smuggling of blood diamonds from the CAR as well as transfer pricing (the undervaluing of diamonds from African countries to evade export taxes).

While the CAR report from Amnesty and the boycott of the KP by the CSC are welcome developments, their silence, and that of the jewellery industry as a whole, about the trade in blood diamonds from Israel is a grave disservice to society and a betrayal of Palestinians under the cosh of a brutal, diamond-funded apartheid regime that murders, maims and terrorises with impunity.

Sean Clinton is a human rights activist from Ireland. He has written a number of articles exposing the links between the global diamond industry and the Israeli occupation and war crimes in Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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