Japan-Based NGO Looks Beyond Diamonds and Money

By John Mercury March 9, 2024

This article is part of our Women and Leadership special report that coincides with global events in March celebrating the accomplishments of women. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Her own engagement ring led Chie Murakami into a new line of international development work: improving life for miners. As founder and chief executive of Diamonds for Peace, a nongovernmental organization based in Japan, Ms. Murakami, 50, has been trying to improve the environmental and socio-economic conditions of diamond mining communities in developing countries, particularly Liberia. The organization’s mission is threefold, Ms. Murakami said: raising awareness of the issues surrounding diamond mining, helping to support the workers and providing emergency aid in the event of a crisis.

What made you decide to establish Diamonds for Peace?

I received my engagement ring in 2007. I didn’t know much about diamonds at that time, so I searched the internet looking for happy and fun stories about diamonds. But I didn’t find any of those, and I was shocked to learn about issues like conflict diamonds or child labor. After learning those issues, I started thinking about what I could do using my experience in international development working in Laos, Haiti, Kenya.

Why Liberia?

I visited Sierra Leone in 2012 to see the reality after the movie “Blood Diamond.” But I didn’t see much room for me to go in as a new group to do something. After I came back to Japan, a Japanese friend who used to work in Liberia as a U.N. volunteer introduced me to her Liberian friend. In 2014, he arranged my trip to mining communities in Liberia so I could talk to the people and observe how mining was carried out. When I came back to the Liberian capital, Monrovia, I saw a deputy minister at the Ministry of Mines, who was leading the effort to develop a policy to organize all the miners into cooperatives. Because I was thinking about the fair trade of diamonds — and one of the prerequisites for fair trade is that workers have to be organized into cooperatives or unions — I thought we were working in the same direction.

What are some specific issues affecting the artisanal mining communities in Liberia?

A major issue is extreme poverty. A worker at the diamond mine only gets around $300 a year. The miners are trapped in a poverty cycle. Usually, minerals belong to the government, so they have to have a mining license. While many miners had a license at some point in the past, most of them don’t have the money to renew it, and it means that most of the miners are mining illicitly. Because they don’t have a valid license, they cannot sell their diamonds to licensed brokers or licensed dealers, so they just sell the diamonds to a local investor who doesn’t have a license for brokerage. And then those diamonds can get smuggled to other countries.

The Liberian government estimates that about half of the diamonds produced in Liberia get smuggled to other countries.


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