Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia staff
There are many different stakeholders in the artisanal diamond mining industry, one of them is the investors who are called “Supporters” in Liberia. The Supporters are those people who provide miners/diggers with the financial and/or material support to run artisanal diamond mining projects. They provide the support to the miners and the diggers with a verbal understanding that the miners and diggers will sell the recovered diamonds to them. The miners are the people who obtain the licenses to own and operate mining claims; the diggers complete the manual digging for diamonds. The miners and diggers are mostly reliant on the supporters for financial? sponsorship to operate their mining projects.
Diamonds for Peace understands that the Supporters have conflicting interest with the miners and diggers; the miners and diggers often complain they are not satisfied with the price the Supporters pay for the mined diamonds, but they do not have other options because they are obligated to sell their diamonds to the Supporters at their asking price in accordance with the understood verbal agreement. The Supporters on the other end claim they invest a lot of money to provide the sponsorship, so they too deserve to make profits as well.
The main goal of our project is to help the artisanal diamond miners and diggers become self-reliant and be able to improve their working and living conditions. At the moment, most of the miners and diggers are reliant on the Supporters for their mining activities, so we think it is important to analyze the situations of the Supporters and find a better way forward for the success of the project. The DFP coordinator frequently has visited Weasua and assessed the situations surrounding the Supporters’ involvement in the diamond mining activities.
What kind of support do they give?
The artisanal diamond mining industry is categorized by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) under the class “C” category of mining; this is the lowest class of mining in Liberia. The workers in this field are only allowed to use local equipment like shovels, diggers (a local tool used for digging), cutlass, local jigs etc. They are not permitted to use heavy duty equipment except in an extreme case; for example a rocky field where the use of shovel and diggers cannot help the workers to dig out the gravel, or a field that requires very deep mining. Therefore, because of the nature of the mining work, the primary kind of sponsorship needed is the supply of food items and basic working tools; in a very few cases the Supporters provide some cash for the workers medication whenever they get ill. The Supporters supply the needed equipment/tools periodically; as for the food items, they are required to supply throughout the period of a given mining project. However, there are Supporters who give support one time only and then claim all the recovered diamonds from a certain claim as theirs.
The Supporters’ partnership agreement with the miners and diggers
As stated previously, the partnership agreement between the Supporters and the miners and diggers in solely verbal, , there is no written agreement. The agreement is verbally understood and all the concerned stakeholders confirm that they are aware of the terms such that the supporters provide the needed sponsorship in a given project and the miners and diggers sell the diamonds recovered from said project to the supporters. The Supporters do not take a direct share from the sales but instead they purchase the mined diamonds at a price that they determine, with the understanding that they will sell the diamonds on the open market to recover their expenses and make a profit . According to the Supporters, it is not a common practice to write the agreement, in fact they claim a written agreement rather than verbal it would be unprecedented in the artisanal mining industry. The miners and diggers confirmed they do not write any agreement.
Their reaction to the assessment
During the assessment, the Supporters were cooperative, they welcomed the interview and responded to the questions honestly. According the mining laws, it is prohibited for a person without a valid mining or broker license to be in possession of diamonds and said person is not allowed to buy and sell diamonds. The interviewed Supporters had no fear/reservation telling the truth about the conditions of their work; some of them did not have a valid license but admitted they buy and sell diamonds. The Supporters acknowledged the feelings of the miners and diggers regarding the price they pay for their diamonds; however, they claimed the miners and diggers do not really understand how to evaluate the rough diamonds and also do not understand what the Supporters have to go through providing the supports.
The artisanal diamond mining sector is not formalized, there are some irregularities ranging from illicit mining to illicit sales of diamonds; with the presence of these conditions, it is likely that diamonds are been smuggled out of Liberia frequently. One of the contributing factors to this condition is the presence of the Supporters in the industry, especially those ones without the valid broker license. My understanding is that many of the Supporters are looking for a kind of profitable business and they see the provision of supports to mining projects and in return the buying and selling of the recovered diamonds as the right kind of business for them. However, with the effort of the Liberian government to formalize the sector by organizing the miners into cooperatives, an idea which DFPL also supports, the miners and diggers should have more decision making power. The Supporters with valid licenses could be incorporated into the cooperative with clearly defined and written roles and profit sharing agreements. In this way the miners and diggers could have a more equitable relationship with the Supporters. We feel our assessment of the role of the Supporters was very important in evaluating how to improve the working conditions of the artisanal miners and diggers in Weasua.
Front photo:DFPL’s coordinator in an interview with a supporter in Weasua.(c) Diamonds for Peace