ASA Refuses to Investigate DeBeers’ Claim that Diamonds which Fund Israeli Human Rights Violations are ‘Conflict Free’

A social media campaign against Israel's 'blood diamonds'. (Courtesy: @Wardiamonds)

By Hebh Jamal

After 15 months of deliberation, the Advertising Standards Authority UK (ASA) has refused to formally investigate a complaint from a group of Anglo American shareholders that challenges advertisements claiming De Beers and Forevermark diamonds are conflict free.

The group, Shareholders Against Blood Diamonds (SABD) lodged the complaint in June 2020 that provides irrefutable evidence that diamonds sold by the De Beers Group generate revenue used to directly fund the Israeli military, which stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In 2003, following a growing concern about the trade in diamonds linked to human rights violations, the diamond industry agreed to the introduction of the Kimberley Process (KP) regulations, which the public were told would stem the trade in blood diamonds.

Yet, instead of banning all blood diamonds, the industry introduced the term “conflict diamonds”, the definition of which is restricted to “rough diamonds that fund violence by rebel groups or their allies aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” This definition of course, allows government forces to evade responsibility and regulation as the diamond industry can still fund human rights violations caused by “legitimate” regimes.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have published reports scathingly critical of the KP’s failure to outlaw diamonds that fund government violence.

Then Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the only way Israel can ensure its military might is through a powerful economy. He emphasized in 2018, that “Israel is responsible for generating 88% of the vast security budget that funds the IDF.”

Former president of the Israeli diamond exchange, Yair Sahar, stated that the diamond industry is a “cornerstone of the economy”, where exports over $21 billion accounted for 30% of Israel’s total manufacturing exports in 2014.

Likewise, De Beers sightholders companies, ABT Diamonds Ltd and the Steinmetz Group company, Diacore, directly fund the Israeli military. Since this was raised at the Anglo American AGM in April the page confirming this on De Beers’ website has been removed from public view, but an archive of it can be found here.

The Steinmetz Foundation “adopted” a unit of the notorious Givati Brigade. This Israeli army unit was responsible for the Samouni family massacre in Gaza, a war crime documented by the UNHRC and other human rights organizations.

While not disputing the fact that De Beers and Forevermark diamonds fund grave human rights violations, the ASA maintains that consumers would understand the term “conflict-free” to refer only to the conditions where the diamonds are mined.

“Diamonds that are a significant source of funding for breaches of international human rights law or crimes against humanity, are blood diamonds” said SABD in a statement. “Diamond exports are a critical source of the foreign currency needed to enforce Israel’s discriminatory legal system, belligerent occupation and illegal colonisation of Palestinian Territories.”

SABD, in a press release, stated that the evidence brought forth should have been sufficient for the ASA to initiate a formal investigation. They are demanding that De Beers act in accordance with the Advertising Codes, and provide evidence to substantiate their marketing claims. On its website, De Beers makes the following claim:

“Our stringent conflict-free diamond policy and its certification is our confident declaration that every single piece of De Beers jewellery is ethically produced and 100% conflict-free. Each piece of De Beers Diamond Jewellery is accompanied by a counterfeit-proof Certificate of Authenticity detailing its specifications and guaranteeing that all De Beers diamonds are conflict-free and responsibly sourced.”

“Conflict-free is a deception and so too is the claim that De Beers diamonds are responsibly sourced,” SABD stated. “Responsible sourcing doesn’t end at the mine gate; it applies to every step of the supply chain from mine to the end customer.”

In last May alone, the Israeli military killed 260 Palestinians, of whom 66 were children. The Gaza Health Ministry said Israeli forces injured 1,948 Palestinians including 610 children. Human Rights Watch said the fighting that took place in Gaza “amounted to war crimes.”

Speaking on behalf of the shareholders, Jenny Hall stated that, “De Beers’ diamond supply chain is enmeshed in one of the world’s most protracted and bloodiest conflict zones where the diamond industry is a significant source of funding for a regime guilty of gross human rights violations.” Continuing she said: “The jewellery industry doesn’t just turn a blind eye to Israel’s grave human rights violations; it facilitates them and covers them up by claiming diamonds that fund Israeli bloodshed and violence are conflict free.”

SABD believes the ASA has failed in their duty to protect consumers and give due consideration to the harm caused to victims of diamond-funded human rights violations. They stated that the evidence presented to the ASA Council did not accurately or fully convey the evidence they presented and will be seeking an Independent Review of the Council decision. 

– Hebh Jamal is a Palestinian journalist and activist based in Mannheim, Germany. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle 

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