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Diamond and gems unions call for resilience under Covid-19 disruptions

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16 March, 2021In a virtual meeting held on 11 March, the IndustriALL Global Union network on diamonds, gems, ornaments and jewellery production (DGOJP) called for employers’ responsibility across the global supply chain to protect their workforce and underlined the importance of defending workers’ rights amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The meeting discussed that the DGOJP sub sector, like the mining sectors, is facing the severe adverse impact of Covid-19 including job losses. In Botswana, for instance, 277 jobs were lost with over 51 workers retrenched at Signet Jewellery.

Suspension of mining activities when mines were put on “care and maintenance” in Canada, Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia, India, and Zimbabwe, also led to job losses. De Beers, the largest supplier of gemstones’,  reported a decline in sales. In India, the import of rough diamonds fell steeply.
Further, there have been drops in sales of diamonds – both rough and polished – with subsequent ripple effects on jewellery sales for most diamond stores in the United Kingdom, France, USA, Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia. Diamond hub Antwerp slowed down.

Some companies were forced into discussions with creditors. These include Petra Diamonds (South Africa and Tanzania), and Rio Tinto’s cash call on junior partner, Dominion Diamond ULC at its Diovak Mine in Canada. These developments adversely affected the diamond value chain: exploration and valuation, mining, and processing, grading and valuation, rough diamonds, and sales, cutting, polishing, and trading, and jewellery manufacturing and sales.
Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining and DGOJP, is optimistic that the sector will recover by 2024 through a V-shaped recovery that he describes as – “a quick and sustained recovery in measures of economic performance after a sharp economic decline.” He points to evidence provided by some mining companies that have shown that a quick recovery is possible.
Glen Mpufane, said unions have shown signs of resilience during Covid-19:

“IndustriALL is building union resilience in the sector. An example can be drawn from the international solidarity shown in the building of union offices by the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL) in the mountains of Lesotho to improve the union’s access to workers in the diamond mines. In this project, IDUL got support from IndustriALL, Belgium’s ACV – Transcom and South African unions.”

Further, globally trade union have continued to fight for workers’ rights and living wages in the sector. Engagement is also taking place through social dialogue.
Unions have continued to fight for the rights of women miners against gender-based segregation. Armelle Seby, IndustriALL Gender Coordinator said:

“Diamond cutting, and polishing is dominated by men. According to estimates, in India women constitute less than five percent of total workers in diamond cutting and polishing. When women are present, they are more commonly found in diamond polishing, which is lower-skilled work relative to cutting.”

Trade unions called for attaining highest levels of occupational health and safety, the right to refuse and shut down unsafe work and recognition of Covid-19 as an occupational health and safety issue were some of the highlights of the meeting.
Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary said:

“Covid-19 is the largest global crisis in our generation.  The pandemic has caused serious implications for economic, social, and political systems. The social and economic crisis has now, turned to become an existential crisis for humankind. Vaccine nationalism takes us nowhere and trade unions need to work towards the right of universal access for Covid-19 vaccines based on cooperation, solidarity and justice.

"For trade unions occupational health and safety is crucial to tackling Covid-19. IndustriALL and global union federations are urging the ILO to declare occupational health and safety as a fundamental right. We are working towards mandatory due diligence for all multinational corporations regardless of their size and structure, and companies in the DGOJP supply chain should commit themselves to ensure protection of labour and human rights and the environment.”

Photo credit: De Beers diamond mine in Jwaneng, Botswana, Esther Dyson, Flickr