New Project Touts ‘Fifth C’

In an unusual partnership, a nongovernmental organization, an Antwerp diamond group, and a worker’s union are joining forces in a project designed to give consumers extra confidence when buying diamonds.

The three groups—Global Witness, the ICEM union, and a usually low-profile Antwerp group, the Federation of Dealers in Diamonds and Colored Stones—have unveiled a plan to create a “fifth C” assurance program run by a new, independent group, the Bureau of Minerals and Gemology (BMG). BMG will issue “Fifth C” stamps that guarantee diamonds are natural and untreated, “non-conflict,” and produced in humane working conditions without child labor or forced labor.

Diamond companies that use the stamp will be audited regularly by independent bodies to ensure they are complying with the group’s requirements. The stones may be sold with computer chips that contain pictures of where the stone was mined and manufactured.

“There are 20 pages of code that companies must sign,” notes Eddy Vleeschdrager, president of the Federation of Diamond and Precious Stone Dealers.

Scientists from Belgium’s University of Louvain have been enlisted to design the system and work on its implementation, he says.

The actual finished program “is quite a long way away,” notes Global Witness’s Alex Yearsley, who says he wants to involve other NGOs that work on issues like child labor.

Some in the industry, particularly in Antwerp, were less than pleased with the program, noting that the industry already has provisions to ensure stones are non-conflict and produced in humane conditions.

“You have one individual who is putting himself forward as a white knight,” said one local official. “It makes it seem like the industry is not working on these things, when the industry has been making tremendous efforts toward solving these problems.”

But Vleeschdrager says he’s willing to work with other groups and notes that mining companies and associations in the United States already have expressed interest. And he sees BMG as a way for the industry to “clear its name.”

“This is the 21st century,” he says. “Some countries are still working like it’s the Middle Ages. The diamond business needs another mentality.

“When my parents and grandparents started in the business, they were the first ones to give holidays and health insurance. We were on top of social evolution. Now we are on the bad side, and we must clear this as soon as possible.”