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Beyond the sparkle: advancing workers' rights in the diamond sector

23 February, 2024Set against the picturesque backdrop of the Lesotho Highlands in the Butha Buthe District, home to the country's diamond mines, IndustriALL Global Union’s Global Diamond Network convened on 20-21 February to strategize on promoting decent work within the diamond industry.

The diamond industry value chain includes mining, rough trading, cutting, polishing, manufacturing, jewelry setting and retailing. 

The 20 participants, from the Global Diamond Network came from diamond mining countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The other participants came from Belgium, home to Antwerp, a historic hub for diamond traders, cutters, and polishers.

Reports from the mining countries on violations of workers’ rights and decent work deficits which included precarious working conditions of low wages, absence of job security, long working hours, gender discrimination, violations of maternity protection, and union busting and bashing. The meeting heard that diamond mining companies also failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment and did not comply with health and safety standards. 

Participants committed build union capacity in collective bargaining through focused training and learning initiatives aimed at improving negotiation skills in mining, polishing, and cutting. They argued that this will strengthen and promote knowledge transfer through exchanges and solidarity activities among the unions. Furthermore, the meeting underscored the importance of gender equity in the diamond industry, advocating for better representation of women. 

The network encouraged unions to join the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) and to use the IRMA Standard for Responsible Mining as it is comprehensive and makes mining companies accountable through audits and assessments. Additionally, the meeting discussed cooperation with non-governmental organizations on human rights due diligence. However, the network urged unions to remain focused on making the diamond industry comply with national and international labour standards. 

Emphasizing the developmental potential of diamond mining in the Global South, the network highlighted the need for mining companies to engage in responsible mining practices and ethical sourcing to contribute to job creation, economic growth, and sustainable development. 

Through the network, Belgian union ACV-CSC Transcom and IndustriALL supported the building of the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho’s office at Kao Village to facilitate better access to recruit and organize mineworkers.  

Yves Toutenel, general secretary responsible ACV-Transcom Diamant and IndustriALL diamond network Co-chair, said: 

“As we convene this network meeting, nestled in the heart of Southern Africa, we are not only surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of this nation but also by the rich heritage and potential of the diamond trade that pulses through its veins.”

“Lesotho holds a special place in the world of diamonds. Its mines have yielded some of the most remarkable gems, captivating hearts and minds across the globe. Yet, beyond the glimmer of these precious stones lies a deeper narrative - one of resilience, community, and shared prosperity.” 

Commending the network, Annelies Deman, Federal Secretary of Algemene Centrale ABVV – Centrale Generale FGTB said:  

“I met and engaged with comrades who are doing a great job in the diamond industry, shared our challenges, learned from each other, and set up priority action points for the future of the network.” 

May Rathakane, IDUL, general secretary said: 

“We are grateful for the support and solidarity that we received for our organizing drive to unionize Lesotho’s diamond workers.” 

“As trade unions we must not tolerate unfair labour practices in the diamond industry and must use collective bargaining, global framework agreements, and ILO standards as tools to attain decent working conditions,” said Mpho Phakedi, the National Union of Mineworkers, acting general secretary.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining, diamonds, gems, ornaments, and precious stones emphasized:  

“It is important for the network to develop strategies that enhance collective bargaining which remains one of the trade union’s most effective tools.”