Leanne Kemp remembers the first time she saw the 2006 film Blood Diamond and wondered how human rights issues like the illegal diamond trade could still exist in her lifetime.
The mining of illegal diamonds in Africa – often referred to as “blood diamonds” – not only subjects the workers to horrifying conditions but has also become a means for criminal organizations and terrorist organizations (like Al Qaeda) to either transport wealth, as Kemp says diamonds are one of the most easily concealed forms of wealth, or to directly fund their organizations through the sale of these diamonds.
Why it has been so easy for these unethical mining companies to operate and to get diamonds into the market is the fact that tracking systems have historically involved just slips of paper with a serial code placed inside a “tamper-proof” bag with the diamond, which simply needs to be verified with a matching paper slip at each step along the processing lifetime. This system has been easily manipulated in the past so that diamonds which were illegally mined found themselves dispersed among the legal diamonds throughout the market.
While Kemp, the founder and chief executive officer of Everledger Ltd., says that 99.97 per cent of all traded diamonds in the retail network are non-conflict diamonds, the damaging effect of that remaining 0.03 per cent weighed on her heavily and inspired her to get involved.
“That lived with me for quite some time,” said Kemp in an interview with IT World Canada at the Blockchain Revolution Global conference in Toronto. “And if you’ve got the ability to do something about it, then why not? Then when we talk about just the misalignment and values that still exists that disturbs me a little bit because these things just shouldn’t really be that way today. ”
As a native of Australia, she was able to look to her home country – which she described as “probably the most ethical country in the world” when it comes to child labour and safety standards in the mining of precious stones – as an example to work towards.
Kemp saw an opportunity to bring modern tracking processes powered by blockchain technology into the diamond industry so that these illegal traders would encounter many difficulties when trying to get their products into the market.
She said that because 10 major mining companies comprise 90 per cent of the industry and 80 per cent of diamonds are graded in one lab, once a proper system could be put in place, the impact that these systems could have would quickly materialize.
Her company has developed a blockchain platform, Everledger Diamonds, that gives companies involved in the diamond mining industry end-to-end tracking in a much more verifiable manner, thanks to the core characteristics of blockchain technology (immutability, speed, and security).
The system creates a new block in the chain at every step in the process (mining, sorting, planning, laser cutting, polishing, polish quality control, certification, and sale) so that the professional in charge at that step can input key identifying information about the stone.
By inputting key information into the ledger, like the size and weight of the diamond, ID number of the stone, carats, location, name of professional handling the stone, etc., as well as photos and videos of the diamond and the process enacted, at every step along the journey, the platform Everledger has developed is increasing the traceability and transparency of the diamond industry.
This technology not only allows companies involved in the industry to ensure the diamonds they work with are ethical but also allows consumers to track the journey of any diamonds they are looking to purchase.
The platform has been in use since 2015 and Kemp says the positive effects she has witnessed already are what inspire her to get up and do what she does every day and helps her put some of her own problems into perspective.
“It motivates me to get up in the morning when it’s tough to get up. And when you think about some of the challenges that we talked about – the first world problems – yeah, sure my plane was late or, you know, I ended up sleeping upright to get here from Seattle to Toronto, is that really a problem? No.”