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Artisanal Diamond Diggers in Bellekpalamu Unhappy with Current Working Conditions

Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia Staff

 In the artisanal diamond mining industry in Liberia, there are several stakeholders: miner, digger, broker, supporter (financer), and dealer (exporter).

 

The miner is the person who obtains a Class C mining license from the government to operate a mining claim. He operates the claim by bringing in diggers to work. He doesn’t pay them any salaries; they both work with an understanding to share the profit they get from recovered diamonds on a share rate of 50% each (50% for a group of diggers and 50% for the miner).

The diggers are the laborers who work on miners’ fields and get a percentage on recovered diamonds.

The brokers are local buyers who have obtained a license from the government to legally buy diamonds from the artisanal diamond miners. They sometimes provide sponsorship to run the miners’ fields in an effort to strengthen relationships with miners.

The supporters are those who provide part of the cost to run a miner’s field. They do this in an agreement with miners and diggers who have to sell diamonds to them in return. The supporters in most cases are not licensed; however, they buy diamonds from diggers and miners. They are also compelled to sell those diamonds to licensed brokers through the miner from whose field the diamond is recovered.

The dealers are licensed diamond buyers who buy and export diamonds. It is understood that dealers empower licensed brokers to buy from miners, supporters, and diggers in the field and directly sell those diamonds to dealers.

In most cases the miner cannot afford the funds to run his field, so he brings in someone to provide sponsorship. The person who provides the sponsorship is referred to as a supporter; however, licensed brokers also provide support to run miners’ fields. The supporter pays part of the cost to run the miner’s field; he provides feeding for the diggers twice a day. In return, the miner and the diggers have to sell diamonds to him with the understanding that he has to further sell them for profit, considering the expenses he has made to run the field. Through this system, the artisanal diamond workers work and earn their living. However, though the miners and diggers have worked like this for many decades, they are not satisfied with the following conditions.

Artisanal diamond diggers in Bellekplamu explain their plights to DFPL’s Coordinator

 

Unfair price for diamonds

The miners and the diggers on one hand are saying consistently that diamond buyers (supporters/brokers) don’t buy their diamonds at fair prices. But the miners and diggers have had to accept the situation because they don’t have the power to bargain price with the buyers, given the fact that they depend on the buyers to run mining fields. The miners in this case link the cause of their continuous dependency on supporters to the low price with which their diamonds are bought.

 

On the other hand, diggers believe they don’t get a better share from their diamond sales because they feel as though the miners conspire with supporters to cheat them. Diggers think the miners get a better share than they; they say miners don’t contribute much to the mining, but get the lion’s share of the proceeds. For example, the miner is supposed to make available the following items: 1) jig, 2) washing box, 3) machine, and 4) shaker head. In most cases the miner would produce three of these items, but fail to provide the machine. They think a 60% share for a group of diggers is better.

 

Ten percent (10%) deduction from diggers’ share for the use of machine

In most cases, when a miner does not produce the machine for a project, the supporter produces the machine and makes a 10 percent deduction from both the miner and the diggers’ shares for the use of machine. The diggers think that there should be no percentage deduction from their share for the use of a machine, because it is the responsibility of the miner to produce the machine for the project. If he fails to do so, then the 10 percent deduction should not affect the diggers, but rather the miners only.

 

The General Broker Issue

According to the regulations of the Ministry of Land, Mines and Energy, all miners must sell the diamonds they recover from their fields to licensed brokers. This regulation is put in place to ensure that diamonds go through the Kimberley Process. They sometimes provide a part of the cost to run the miners’ fields. However, there are many supporters who are not licensed brokers; they also provide support to run mining claims and buy diamonds from miners and diggers in return. But they are compelled to sell those diamonds to the miner’s appointed broker, who is in this case referred to as a general broker. This general broker issue could be unique to Bellekpalamu and its surrounding diamond mining communities, as I didn’t see it in the other mining areas.

The miners in this case get double benefits; first he gets a 50% share on the sales to the supporter, and later another 20% on the sales to the general broker.

 

Because the supporters are compelled to sell diamonds to the general broker, they have no choice. They cannot bargain prices much with the general broker because he normally gets an idea of how much they have paid to the miner and diggers for a diamond. In most cases the general broker would secretly tell the supporter not to buy a diamond above a certain price. Otherwise it would be at the disadvantage of the supporter because he (the general broker) would also not buy that diamond above a certain price. All these things happen at the disadvantage of the diggers, but for the miners they get an additional 20% share on the latter sales to the general broker. In response to these conditions, the diggers think it is unbearable for them, so many of them have decided to go into gold mining.

View of the artisanal diamond digging operation

FrontPhoto:Diggers wash gravel in search of diamonds(DFP)