Indian Diamond Industry Walks The Path Of KINDNESS
With more than one million people employed in the diamond sector, India is the world’s largest manufacturing centre for cut and polished diamonds, contributing 70% of the world’s supply in value and 85% in volume. Eleven out of every 12 diamonds set in je
India shares a millennia-old relationship with diamonds – they were, after all, first discovered here. Indians were the first to unleash the brilliance of the diamond, and their passion for the business still runs deep. Indian diamantaires and their workforce are known to continuously adapt to the changing dynamics of the industry. The family-run businesses are seeing an infusion of young blood, and these young Turks understand the need for training and harnessing other skills to maintain a leading edge over other global players.
“Skills executed at the lowest cost is key to India’s success. The country spends the lowest per carat on polishing and cutting of diamonds, as against its competitors in China, South Africa and so on,” says Vasant Mehta, chairman, Indian Institute of Gems & Jewellery (IIGJ), and director, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). The vast resources of manpower combined with the skill of the Indian artisan and the relentless efforts of Indian entrepreneurs who have taken on the daunting task of setting up this industry are additional contributors to India’s success, Mehta adds.
Although India pioneered the cutting of small diamonds, today its craftsmen are equally skilled at cutting all shapes and sizes of stones. “India is the only centre which offers a truly mind-boggling variety of gems and plain, diamond- and gemstone-studded jewellery suited for every need in every market across the world. None of the other major producing countries offers buyers such a complete range of choices,” notes Mehta.
Much of India’s success could not have happened without advanced technology, but indeed our artisans’ insight and skills have been enhanced with the state-of-theart technology. Also, with many indigenous companies becoming sightholders of the Diamond Trading Company (DTC), Alrosa and Rio Tinto, procuring more rough was not an issue. Thus, coupled with artisans’ insight and knowledge and supplemented by technology, larger and better quality rough started being processed here.
“India is the centre of implementation of technology, India’s labour source is not only low-cost but also flexible and easily adapts to new technology. In fact, it is amazing to note that Indian diamond manufacturers and artisans are filled with a compelling urge to embrace new technology. The latest advances invariably find their way to Surat, and manufacturers get the optimum result out of it,” says Uzi Levami, chief executive officer of Sarin, Israel.
“The Indian diamond cutters are early adopters. They are willing to learn and evaluate new technologies, to find out if the machine can do it better than them,” adds Akiva Caspi, vice president for marketing
“Skills executed at the lowest cost is key to India’s success. The country spends the lowest per carat on polishing and cutting of diamonds, as against its competitors in China, South Africa and so on.”
“We have our own challenges to face like training of manpower, attracting new talent in the industry and making diamond manufacturing interesting enough so that it can compete with rising salaries of other industries.”
and business development at Sarin. “Many Israeli companies have shifted their manufacturing to India by setting up their own plants or by working with local partners or subcontracting to local manufacturers. The main reason behind this drastic change is the workforce of skilled, industrious and knowledgeable artisans. They have understood you can’t beat Indians on this front. So if you can’t beat them, it’s better to join them.”
However, on a cautious note, Raj Dholakia of Bhavani Gems, says, “We have our own challenges to face like training of manpower, attracting new talent in the industry and making diamond manufacturing interesting enough so that it can compete with rising salaries of other industries.”
A strong bond
The relationship between diamantaires and artisans cannot be decoupled as they both share a unique partnership. The ties are kept intact because of the trust, respect and hard work that they have for each other. This bonhomie has contributed to some significant developments in the diamond industry as a whole.
Credit must be given to mining companies like De Beers and Rio Tinto that directly and indirectly helped in the betterment of the working conditions of artisans. For instance, the small Argyle diamonds that were available in plenty were hard to cut. Argyle helped the Indian diamond industry to develop diamond-impregnated scaifes, better known as diamond scaifes (polishing wheels). The Indian diamond cutters were able to achieve 18 polished facets on diamonds little bigger than a grain of sand. Thus, artisans were able to produce at higher volumes and achieve better results. To help facilitate the responsible growth of the Indian diamond industry, Rio Tinto’s groundbreaking Business Excellence Model was launched in India in 2003. These management tools encouraged Indian manufacturers to better their workplace, and modify social and environmental practices to global standards, reassuring the international market that quality assurance mechanisms were in place for diamonds cut and polished by Rio Tinto diamond customers in India.
Similarly, De Beers’ Best Practice Principles (BPPs) take care of the workers’ health and safety, labour standards and working environment. It was supported by a rigorous assurance programme that assessed compliance by all parties including sightholders and sub-contractors. Mining companies collaborated on other initiatives to raise workplace health and safety, recruitment and training of workers in the diamond industry, enhancing productivity by developing new technology and spreading best business practices, together with continuous workplace safety and occupational health.
Taking a leaf out of these practices, the Surat Diamond Association (SDA) established as a non-profit organisation in 1988 with a membership of more than 2,400 working towards the betterment of the industry. Dinesh Navadia, SDA president says, “We have undertaken a number of initiatives, such as the Empower ID programme to address
labour-related issues in the SME sector; different seminars and fairs are held to increase awareness about rapidly changing technology and economic trends. We have organised various health camps and education programmes for the betterment of the local community.” He further adds, “There are more than 5,000 ghantiwala units (unorganised, low-cost diamond cutting units) out of which only 3,500 units are registered with the ministry of micro, small and medium enterprises. Still the majority of the industry is not organised. We have taken up this ID programme in association with the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and more than one lakh ID cards have been issued until now.”
Attracting new talent
The diamantaires are facing another huge challenge – that of attracting new talent in the manufacturing industry.
“There is an acute shortage of skilled labour in this industry. Kathiawadi Patels were the driving force in the diamond polishing segment. As time evolved, their lifestyle and socio-economic conditions improved. Now they are looking for managerial positions or lucrative jobs in other industries. Polishers’ wages have not kept pace with inflation. People from other states have better employment options in their home states, and Gujarat’s own industrial development attracts employment in other sectors,” informs Keval Virani of KARP. He adds, “We need to make collaborative efforts in association with trade organisations to attract fresh talent in the industry.”
A joint initiative has been already taken by the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), the SDA and the GJEPC to train unskilled tribal women to perfect the art of cutting and polishing precious stones, so that they can get decent employment opportunities to earn a livelihood. Navadia states, “Youngsters are unwilling to take up cutting and polishing jobs and a huge section of the present workforce is on the verge of retirement. The industry feels that there is an urgent need to train unskilled artisans from the rural areas to create more employment. We have extended support required in
training and giving employment to the tribal women at their doorstep.”
In just seven months of initiating this programme, the number of tribal women taking up diamond cutting and polishing in villages of Tapi, Surat and Dang districts has increased almost tenfold. More than 130 units have been set up by small- and medium-scale diamond manufacturers from Surat in tribal areas like Jhankhvav, Mandvi, Vankal, Ahwa, Dang and border villages of Nandurbar in Maharashtra and Vansda, employing about 21,000 women. Tribal women are now processing R1,300 crore-worth of diamonds of small sizes every year; this has instilled a sense of pride and confidence in them.
Surat-based Indian Diamond Institute (IDI) is also working towards attracting new talent in the industry. The Indian diamond industry was a close-knit society and the general public was by and large unaware about the growth and working environment. Thus, the IDI began organising career fairs to showcase the strength of the industry to school and college students looking for better career options. The government has also started a project called the Gems and Jewellery Skill Council of India (GJSCI), which aims to create a workforce empowered with continuously upgraded skills, knowledge and qualifications to ensure India’s competitiveness in global gems and jewellery market. The IDI is teaming up with the GJSCI to give subsidised training programmes with placement guarantee to college/school drop-outs.
Savji Dholakia, founder of Hari Krishna Exports Pvt. Ltd., says, “We are visited by many students from educational institutions on work projects on the diamond industry. They are awestruck with the progress and modern approach of the industry. They come with preconceived notions about the diamond industry and think it still continues as a cottage industry. But after completing their term with us, they are more inclined to join the industry, which is run like a corporate firm.”
The diamond industry is in a transitional phase and is no longer a familyrun business where sharing the same last name meant guaranteed succession. In fact, today the industry is open to hiring people based on their qualifications alone.
Dholakia adds, “We too are eager
and open to accepting this new class of educated, talented and passionate employees. I personally feel that this new breed has the potential to change the dynamics of production and is capable of taking us to the next level. At Hari Krishna, we have already started this process. I feel that higher salaries can attract the right talent.”
Hari Krishna Exports believes that corporate social responsibility is its moral duty towards its employees and their families. The group has its own hospital, sports facilities, gymnasium, library, auditorium, meditation centre, and holds motivation seminars regularly. Every year, a blood donation camp is organised by the group. The company also runs a recreational centre for senior citizens and holds seminars for schoolteachers, government employees and police personnel. The company recently created an artificial lake spread over 17 acres in Dudhala village in Saurashtra, to store rainwater. As a result, the village now has adequate supply of water throughout the year. The collateral benefit of this project has been an increase in the subsoil water level, which is contributing to improved agricultural activity.
Diamond cutting is no longer labelled as a blue-collar job. Today, the ghasiyas or polishers are referred to as diamond engineers.
Utpal Mistry, CEO of Lexus Softmac India, says, “Diamond polishers of India are highly skilled workers and they deserve respect. They are considered the prized assets of the industry. At Lexus, we have changed the way diamonds are polished. Our state-of-the-art polishing wheels are set in cabins with computers attached to them. We want to attract the new generation to enter into this wonderful business.”
In spite of having such a vast workforce in the diamond industry, there are no labour unions. In general, the relationship between management and artisans is cordial. Workers are treated like family, endorses diamond cutter Babubhai Dhamelia of Shree Ram Krishna Exports (SRK). “The company provides excellent compensation for hard work and invests a lot in training us.”
Sharing the highlights of his fourdecade-long experience in the diamond industry, SRK founder chairman Govind Dholakia says, “The secret of maintaining an affectionate and warm relationship with artisans is simple. As diamantaires, we have
always believed in caring and sharing. Even in our early days when we had just started, it was common practice to share a meal with our employees – this tradition continues to date.” SRK offers facilities like banking within the company. Its employees can also buy household products at subsidised rates, avail of vehicle and amenity loans after a year of service in the company.
Dholakia further adds, “Employee welfare is an essential activity to keep the morale of the employees high. If they are happy in the workplace, they stay committed for life.”
Dharmanandan Diamonds’ CSR approach focuses on education, motivation and encouragement, healthcare awareness, environmental responsibility and other societal welfare programmes. Hitesh Patel, managing director, Dharmanandan, says, “We believe that cutting and polishing diamonds is a labour of love. The human touch will remain an integral part of the manufacturing process, no matter how automated the systems get.”
Kiran Gems employs more than 31,000 skilled professionals who cut 5.7 million carats of rough diamonds annually. Dinesh Lakhani, director, Kiran Gems Pvt. Ltd., says, “Kiran Gems ensures that its employees have positive socio-economic conditions so that they remain healthy both mentally and physically. Kiran is known to have not downsized its workforce even in the trying economic conditions of 2008-09. This has helped Kiran earn enormous equity from its employees.” According to him, the diamond industry has come of age and is comparable with various industries in terms of work environment, infrastructure, compensation and professional management. Kiran Gems donates to various charitable trusts that provide medical and educational facilities. The company’s HR policies are based on the Best Practice Principles.
Most of the big diamond companies have trusts through which they conduct philanthropic activities. Many companies apportion part of their profits to include “god’s share” in their partnership understandings. This share is used generously by diamantaires in fields of education, healthcare, employee wellbeing and social upliftment.
(Clockwise from top left) A job fair organised by the SDA in Mandvi; the SDA holds a seminar for tribals in Dang; an ambulance is available 24/7 on the Hari Krishna Exports campus; artisans bonding over meals at Hari Krishna Exports’ canteen. (Facing...
The SDA regularly conducts medical checkups for artisans and their families. SAvji Dholakia Founder and Chairman, Hari Krishna Exports
Hari Krishna Exports ensures the physical and mental well-being of its employees.
Vasant Mehta Chairman, IIGJ Mumbai and Director, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) A state-of-the-art diamond manufaturing facility in Surat.
The stone planning division at Kiran Gems. Dinesh Lakhani Director, Kiran Gems Hitesh Patel Managing Director, Dharmanandan Diamonds