Covid-19 affected our industry, operations and community
For GemFair, 2020 began on a high note. We scaled to a further 42 mine sites (bringing our total to 136 members), our training programme was running efficiently and we were receiving positive feedback from miners, government and civil society organisations. Our programme was drawing interest from other luxury brands also wanting to source artisanally mined diamonds with a positive impact. GemFair was becoming a benchmark model of responsible sourcing from artisanal diamond miners.
However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly impacted GemFair’s local operating environment in Sierra Leone, as well as the wider diamond market globally.
The global diamond industry also experienced a strong start to 2020, following challenging trading conditions in the previous year. Yet, the implementation of strict lockdown measures around the world caused widespread disruptions to both diamond demand and supply, affecting all parts of the industry and leading to a global reduction in rough diamond prices.
With disruption across the industry, compounded by movement restrictions and a ban on international flights, artisanal diamond miners in Sierra Leone were dealt a double-edged blow, which included a significant drop in diamond prices, alongside an inflation in food prices.
In March, we decided to bring our expatriate diamond buyers home to their families before the Sierra Leonean border closed for an indefinite period. Our field team, meanwhile, continued to work tirelessly, following the COVID-19 guidance of government and health experts on social distancing, wearing face coverings, undertaking daily temperature checks and frequent hand washing.
Sierra Leone’s economy continues to be heavily affected by the pandemic and the negative consequences will likely continue to be felt in artisanal mining communities and beyond, for a considerable time to come.
Our community response to the pandemic
We knew we had to do all we could to help the local community during this unprecedented crisis. Our Sierra Leonean team quickly mobilised to carry out a survey with our ASM members to better understand where we would be best positioned to help. With food prices rocketing as a result of the border closures, movement restrictions and a poor harvest, just as rough diamond prices were dropping, overwhelmingly our members said that food security was their biggest concern. Many respondents told us they were unable to feed their families. Meanwhile, consultations with local healthcare professionals revealed a sector unable to protect their frontline workers sufficiently if there was an outbreak in Kono.
We therefore developed and rolled out an extensive COVID-19 response plan, focussed on providing food and medical support, which, alongside keeping our staff safe, became our operational focus for the year.
Civil Society Call to Action
Our COVID-19 response has, in part, been guided by a letter written in May 2020, by a coalition of 73 civil society organisations urging governments, financial institutions, international organisations, private sector actors and others to ‘shore up the resilience’ of ASM communities during this time of crisis. The letter highlights several risks which have been intensified by the COVID-19 crisis:
- Financial insecurity
ASM miners fetching lower prices for their goods.
- Economic desperation
Revealing a risk that more vulnerable groups like women and children will become involved in mining and a potential rise of sexual and gender-based violence.
- Rising food prices
Leading to food insecurity and a greater strain on livelihoods.
- Lower government capacity to monitor ASM
Risking illicit and armed actors preying on miners and controlling mine sites.
While not all of these risks apply to our operations in Sierra Leone, we take this Call to Action seriously, and have planned our COVID-19 response efforts with consideration of the vulnerabilities raised, particularly food security, the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and handwashing stations, among others.
Likewise, we have increased the monitoring of participating artisanal mine sites and our team is poised to flag any critical breaches of our ASM Standard Requirements, such as child labour or sexual and gender-based violence, if they occur. We are also inviting local civil society organisations to our training sessions on the GemFair ASM Assurance Programme and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance, building their capacity to engage with ASM communities.
Highlights of our community response plan
Covid-19 weekly SMS
Lansana dividing up food parcels for the workers at his mine site
[GemFair's food parcel programme] is a blessing and I never expected it.
Lansana, Artisanal Miner
Community response results
When you move around rural communities, they have trouble meeting their basic needs under normal circumstances.
This year, with a low-yield agricultural season and the COVID-19 restrictions, communities are hit with a double burden. Behind the scenes, there are many dependents who are surviving on our aid.
Raymond, Location Manager, GemFair Sierra Leone