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Blood Diamonds: Tiffany’s supplier funds IDF unit accused of war crimes

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An Open Letter to Tiffany’s Chairman, CEO, Chief Sustainability Officer and Corporate Social Responsibility Committee

F.A.O.   Michael J. Kowalski, Chairman of The Board
Frédéric Cumenal, CEO, Tiffany & Co.
Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chief Sustainability Officer
Lawrence K. Fish, Chairman, CSR Committee
Gary E. Costley, Member, CSR Committee
Abby F. Kohnstamm, Member, CSR Committee

Re: Blood Diamonds

As members of Tiffany’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee one of your responsibilities is “to identify and bring to the attention of the Board key Social Responsibility issues that may affect the business operations, brand image or reputation of the Company”. For that reason I bring to your attention some matters of serious import that appear to have been brushed under the carpet when Tiffany & Co decided to source diamonds from the Octea Diamond Group, a Beny Steinmetz Group Resources (BSGR) company, in Sierra Leone.

According to your web site, Tiffany’s Social Accountability Program is designed to ensure vendors are held to the exacting standards Tiffany & Co. is proud to uphold and that they protect basic human rights. The Program is supposed to “further ensure that vendors providing the Company with finished goods, diamonds and packaging materials are held to the exacting standards that Tiffany & Co. is proud to uphold”.   

Tiffany & Co would, I hope, never countenance, directly or indirectly, funding or supporting a regime guilty of gross human rights violations. However, BSGR, which is reported to be “one of Tiffany’s biggest (diamond) suppliers” does just that.

According to media reports (here and here) the BSGR group of companies has a unique corporate structure and is controlled by a trust fund, the Steinmetz Foundation, of which the Steinmetz family is the beneficiary.

Revenue from BSGR companies is channelled via the Steinmetz Foundation to the Israeli military which stands accused of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by the UN Human Rights Council.

This information can hardly come as a surprise to you as the following facts were readily available in the public domain, some on the Steinmetz Foundation website before it was revamped and scrubbed of all references to funding the Israeli military.  

  1. The Steinmetz Foundation has “adopted” a Unit of the Givati Brigade of the Israeli military.
  2. The Foundation purchased equipment for and supported the Unit during the Israeli assault on the defenceless, besieged residents of Gaza in the winter of 2008/2009 – operation Cast Lead.
  3. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed during the assault, mainly civilians. Over 300 of those killed were children. Thousands more were maimed and traumatised during the three weeks of relentless bombardment by Israeli forces from land, sea and air.
  4. A United Nations Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission into the assault – the Goldstone Report – found evidence that Israeli forces committed serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions amounting to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
  5. The Steinmetz-supported Givati Brigade was responsible for one of the most serious examples of gross human rights violations documented by human rights organisations and the UNHRC during the Israeli assault on Gaza when 21 members of the Samouni family were killed and many others seriously injured, maimed and traumatized. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem describes the incident as follows:

 “On 4 January 2009, at the start of the ground phase of operation Cast Lead, about 100 members of the extended a-Samuni family were huddled inside one house in the a-Zeitun neighborhood of Gaza City. The next morning, an Israeli airstrike killed 21 people inside the house, including 9 children and 10 women, and injured dozens of other family members. During the next two days, the army refused access to medical teams, in spite of being informed of the terrible outcome by family members who managed to escape the bombed home and human rights and humanitarian organizations, including B’Tselem. When medics managed to get to site, they found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses, and evacuated several wounded people. The army refused permission to evacuate the bodies and they remained in the rubble for a further two weeks.”   

(The findings of UN Human Rights Council investigation into this incident are detailed at pp.159 – 166 of the Goldstone report)

6. On Dec. 20th 2012 Human Rights Watch reported that the Israeli attacks on journalists in Gaza in November 2012 were “evidence of war crimes”.  

7. The Givati Brigade played a central role in the 51 day Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014 which killed 2310 Palestinians, mainly civilians including over 500 children.

8. The UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch concluded that Israeli forces were guilty of serious human rights violations – suspected war crimes – in Gaza.

After information about the Steinmetz Group “adopting” a Unit of the Givati Brigade and supporting it during operation Cast Lead came to public attention the company deleted all reference to this from the Foundation’s website – an apparent attempt to conceal their support for suspected war criminals. However, a screen shot of the website was already widely circulated on the internet. A redacted versions of the website confirmed that the Foundation “donate to the IDF” for a period before that too was deleted.

“Conflict Diamonds” or Blood Diamonds?  

The Tiffany brand is supposed to be synonymous with cut and polished diamonds of the highest quality and provenance. Tiffany’s patrons pay for and expect the best. For diamond buyers, the desirability of diamonds is intrinsically linked with love, romance and celebration.   It is, therefore, absolutely imperative that a diamond is not tarnished by association with human rights violations at any stage along the production pipe from mine to finger.  

Despite this obvious fact, Tiffany’s Corporate Social Responsibility policy is heavily focused on “responsible mining” (mentioned over 50 times in Tiffany’s Sustainability Report (TSR) 2014).  Someone reading the report could be forgiven for thinking that blood diamonds were no longer an issue of concern for the jewellery industry as, surprisingly, the term blood diamond doesn’t appear once in TSR 2014.

Concern about human rights in the diamond industry shouldn’t end at the mine gate – where the remit of the discredited Kimberley Process ends. Downstream of the mining sector, diamonds that generate revenue used to fund human rights violations legally enter the unregulated end of the supply pipe.

As you are aware, the Kimberley Process definition of a “conflict diamond” is narrowly defined as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.”  Consequently, diamonds, cut and polished or rough, that generate revenue used to fund rogue regimes guilty of human rights violations evade the KP regulations. Billions of dollars of these blood diamonds enter the legitimate market each year.

Compounding this major flaw, which was deliberately built into the KP regulations, is the bogus System of Warranties (SOW). The SOW was introduced by the World Diamond Council to paper over the gaping hole in the regulations. It creates the illusion that the regulations banning “conflict diamonds” extend to cut and polished diamonds and it promotes the falsehood that KP compliant diamonds are conflict-free. The SOW amounts to nothing more than a written statement from a vendor declaring:  

The diamonds herein invoiced have been purchased from legitimate sources not involved in funding conflict and in compliance with United Nations resolutions. The seller hereby guarantees that these diamonds are conflict free, based on personal knowledge and/or written guarantees provided by the supplier of these diamonds.”

During the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza members of the Israeli Diamond Bourse raised 250,000 shekels for the soldiers, bought bullet proof vests and sent truck loads of equipment to those responsible for the carnage which many observes, including the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, described at the time as genocide.

Furthermore, it is estimated that revenue from the Israeli diamond industry generates about $1bn/yr in funding for the Israeli military which is guilty of grievous human rights violations.  

Despite this, diamonds from Israel, Angola and Zimbabwe, states with less than exemplary human rights records, all come with a written guarantee from vendors stating that they are conflict-free. This demonstrates that the SOW is a complete charade which does not, and cannot, guarantee the ethical credentials of any diamonds.

Transparency

Although Tiffany’s source 25-35% of their diamonds from third-party sources the identities of those suppliers are not disclosed. This lack of transparency is at odds with Tiffany’s claims to “have long challenged both the mining and jewelry industries to improve—to increase transparency, and prioritize environmental protection and human rights.

Given that 50% of the diamond sold in the US in value terms come from Israel it is likely that some of Tiffany’s diamonds are sourced from companies in Israel where, according to data published by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the diamond industry is notorious for discrimination in employment against non-Jews who make up 25% of the population.

Tiffany’s supports the Principles of the United Nations Global Compact in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment and Anti-Corruption. Principle 6 outlines the measure companies should undertake to ensure fair employment practices throughout their supply chain. If Tiffany’s source cut & polished diamonds from companies in Israel they would be aiding and abetting employment discrimination against the indigenous, non-Jewish, Palestinian population of Israel.

One of the foundational principals underpinning the UN Corporate Responsibility to Protect Human Rights states that the responsibility to respect human rights requires that business enterprises “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.”

Tiffany’s relationship with BSGR is at variance with the company’s commitment to upholding and respecting human rights throughout the supply chain. Given that those impacted by human rights violations carried out by the diamond-funded Givati Brigade, in particular the surviving members of the Samouni family who are still in need of medical attention and assistance to reconstruct homes destroyed by the Israeli bombardment, the question of remedial actions to mitigate those adverse human rights impacts needs to be addressed.

The UN Global Compact states: “The weight of international criminal law jurisprudence indicates that the relevant standard for aiding and abetting is knowingly providing practical assistance or encouragement that has a substantial effect on the commission of a crime”  Companies that sign up to the UN Global Compact have a responsibility to carry out due diligence which is described as “the ongoing process taken to identify, prevent and mitigate and account for negative human rights impacts which the company may cause or contribute to through its own activities or which may be directly linked to the company’s products, operations or services by a business relationship.

The development of BSGR’s mine in Sierra Leone was helped by a $50 million loan from Tiffany’s. This, and the purchase of diamonds from BSGR, means that Tiffany’s is inextricably linked to the human rights violations committed by the Givati Brigade.  

Corporate social responsibility necessitates affirmative action by management to protect a company from exposure to moral and legal hazards. In 2014 Tiffany’s included the following, previously unreported, risk factor in the company’s Form 10-K report to the Unites States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC):

“In addition, adverse publicity regarding TIFFANY & CO. products or in respect of the Company’s third-party vendors or the diamond or jewelry industry, and any media coverage resulting there from, may harm the TIFFANY & CO. brand and reputation, cause a loss of consumer confidence in the TIFFANY & CO. brand and the industry, and negatively affect the Company’s results of operations. The considerable expansion in the use of social media over recent years has compounded the potential scope of the negative publicity that could be generated by such incidents.”

This suggests that Tiffany’s was aware of the potential damage to the company’s brand and reputation arising from its relationship with BSGR. Rather than severing all ties to the Steinmetz Group, which sought to conceal their support for Givati Brigade, Tiffany’s continued to sell diamonds sourced from a company that supports suspected war criminals while claiming to have measures in place that protect the integrity of the supply chain and uphold the company’s standards for social and environmental responsibility.

In recent days Tiffany’s duplicity has continued as the company evaded answering specific questions on their Facebook page that questioned the ethical provenance of their diamonds sourced from BSGR.  Instead, they have repeatedly pasted the following reply which doesn’t address the issues of concern to their fans:

We believe that knowing the origin of our precious metals and gemstones is key to ensuring that mines are operated in environmentally and socially responsible ways. For that reason, Tiffany has direct sourcing relationships with mines around the world. In addition, the vast majority of rough diamonds sourced by Tiffany are also cut and polished in our own state-of-the-art facilities. We believe in investing in local manufacturing, paying a living wage, transferring both craft and management skills to our workforce and contributing to the well-being of the communities in which we operate. To learn more, please visit Tiffany.com/CSR.”

While BSGR diamonds may not be “conflict-diamonds”, they are generating revenue used to fund a military Unit guilty of gross human rights violations.  Diamonds that fund human rights violations are blood diamonds.

While Tiffany & Co’s efforts to promote “responsible mining” and prevent “conflict diamonds” from entering their supply chain are laudable, the failure to fully secure their supply chain means that diamonds linked to gross human rights violations in Palestine can still infiltrate their supply.

If Tiffany’s cared as much for children in Palestine as they do for salmon in Alaska their Sustainability Report would have a much stronger commitment to closing the loop holes which facilitate the trade in diamonds that are generating revenue used to fund gross human rights violations in Palestine.

Tiffany’s should act immediately to disassociate itself from BSGR and ensure that their cut and polished diamonds are not a source of revenue for regimes guilty of gross human rights violations in Africa or Palestine.

Yours sincerely

_____________

Sean Clinton

About Sean Clinton

Sean Clinton is human rights activist from Ireland. He has a particular interest in the Israel/Palestine conflict and the role of the diamond industry in funding the Zionist project in Palestine. He has written several articles about the failure of the jewellery industry to ban the trade in blood diamonds that fund human rights violations by government forces.

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6 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    December 8, 2015, 11:12 am

    Good research except that it doesn’t explain the connection, if any, between Tiffany’s and Sotheby’s. The photo shows Sotheby’s.

  2. chocopie
    chocopie
    December 8, 2015, 11:44 am

    Sickening. Gems are just a way to flaunt wealth; you might as well flush your money down the toilet for all the value you get from a stupid rock. Better to spend the money on more worthwhile things (like donating to Mondoweiss).

  3. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    December 9, 2015, 4:21 am

    I experience considerable cognitive dissonance when I think about BSGR/Steinmetz funding the notoriously savage Givati Brigade* whilst I peruse that photo of Tiffany’s with all them purdy wreaths in the windows. I bet that cost lots of moola.
    I am increasingly beginning to see the Christmas season as the height of hypocrisy.
    Thank God I’m a country boy Pastafarian!

    * FOR A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON THE NOTORIOUSLY SAVAGE GIVATI BRIGADE, SEE:
    “Col. Ofer Winter: Poster Boy for IDF’s New Dirty 200, Ceasefire Dies (Again)”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 8/07/14

    [EXCERPT] After Operation Cast Lead, peace activists prepared a list of 200 IDF officers who played major roles in the sowing the killing fields of Gaza with blood. I’m hoping someone is right now preparing a similar list for Operation Protective Edge. The level of mass mayhem in it far exceeds that of the prior campaign. More dead, more injured, more orphans, more devastation.

    Remember this name in particular: Ofer Winter. He’s the poster boy of IDF war criminals. He was also high on the list of those accused of similar acts during Cast Lead. It was he who wrote the genocidal battle plan announced to his troops in the accompanying image:

    History has chosen for us to be the bayonet point of battle against the Gazan terrorist enemy which curses, defames and abuses the God of Israel’s military campaigns…

    God, the Lord of Israel, make our path successful, as we are about to fight for Your People, Israel, against an enemy who defames your name. In the name of the IDF fighters…make the phrase “For the Lord your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” come true, and we shall answer: Amen.

    Lest you think I overstated the term “genocidal” above, anyone who knows their Bible will recognize this language. It is the language used to describe those tribes which the Israelites wiped out in their campaign to capture the land of Israel and populate it with their offspring. Tribes like the Amalekites, Moabites, Jebusites and others were all exterminated in battles in which the ancient Jews followed what they perceived as God’s will in taking over the land.

    Winter’s Givati brigade played a key role in the slaughter in Rafah in the last week of the war in which 160 Palestinians were killed by vengeful IDF forces seeking vengeance after a Hamas attack that killed an IDF major, sergeant and captured Lt. Hadar Goldin. . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2014/08/07/col-ofer-winter-poster-boy-for-idfs-new-dirty-200/

  4. Boo
    Boo
    December 9, 2015, 9:26 am

    I’m not convinced that there are any diamonds that in some way aren’t blood diamonds. Rather than take the chance, I’ll just forgo them entirely. Charities can use the money better than diamond merchants can anyway.

  5. DaBakr
    DaBakr
    December 10, 2015, 10:43 pm

    i can see a hollywood treatment already:

    J. MaCovoy plays the war criminal Zionist commando [ his Maj.. played by E. MacGregor]-(scots seem to play IDF really well) who has a crisis of conscience when he meets a beautiful Druze [Iranian up-and-comer : Goldshifteh Farahani-…go ahead-look her up. You’ll be glad you did. Her beauty will simply stun anybody. She is the next big international thing from Iran-more then the ‘good-bad deal’;) ] reporter trying to cross from Syria with evidence of Assads use of sarin gas on his own people…BUT…she is also smuggling blood diamonds-she was forced, of course-to save a Syrian family. The helpful go-between would obviously be played by an Israeli-actor-as-Palestinian who is willing to work with both IDF and Druze as he has an inherent and soothing knowledge when all the dust settles- his people will still be there standing like rocks

    its already in pre-production.

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