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Diamonds Aren’t Forever: An Industry Realizes its Social Responsibility

By Tom Watson on February 15, 2007No Comment
blood diamond

Diamonds Aren’t Forever: An Industry Realizes its Social Responsibility
By: Elisabeth Anderson, 2/15/2007


A beautiful couple stands in silhouette.  He secures the diamond solitaire around her neck.  A stirring strings piece plays.  They kiss.  “A Diamond is Forever,” the screen instructs you, and, in that moment, you believe.

This classic De Beers ad, and ones that assert like-minded messages, will reach a saturation point this Valentine’s Day week. 

Welcome to what many understand to be the diamond myth.  Addressing the Annual Rapaport International Diamond Conference on February 5th, Ed Zwick, director of the critically-acclaimed Blood Diamond film, explained it best.  The industry has enjoyed success in conveying that diamonds are “rare when they’re not, indestructible when they’re not, and associated with love when they’re not.” 

This creates a compelling mix of illusion and reality, Zwick continued, of “something indestructible that is [actually] born of destruction.”  While much of African diamond mining has been legitimized vis-à-vis the six-year-old Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), there remain more than one million artisanal diggers who live in poverty in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and elsewhere on the continent. (Artisanal mining is defined by as small-scale digging by individuals, families and communities using basic equipment, such as sieves and pans, has long been associated with a dangerous lack of regulation).  Shattered by the civil wars that rebels financed with the stones they unearthed, these individuals are the worn faces of blood diamonds, also called conflict diamonds.

The KPCS has made strides in the creation of a legally-binding rough diamond certification process, involving 75 countries in regulation “from mine to market,” as the Diamond Development Initiative describes it.  But KPCS only goes so far; it is not designed to address the development and infrastructure issues that are bred by blood diamonds.  Many artisanal diggers still face what the Diamond Development Initiative calls “a hard, dangerous casino economy in which diggers remain poor, while buyers, exporters, processors and retailers make healthy profits.”

The parties in that profit-making camp, i.e. the diamond industry and its component parts, appear to have been late to arrive at the realization that they have a greater CSR role to play.  But arrive they have, and perhaps not in small part thanks to Zwick’s recent Hollywood juggernaut. 

“We are at the beginning of the beginning of the beginning of this process,” said Martin Rapaport, CEO & Chairman of the Rapaport Group, an international network of companies involved in diamond and other jewelry trades and host of the New York conference.

The conference offered a rare opportunity for this reporter to witness what it’s like to launch a CSR platform at industry scale.  As realization is the first step toward progress, it is of note that this forum, which in past years has addressed standard industry-related topics, chose “The Diamond Industry & Artisanal Diamonds” as its focus.  That the Rapaport Group invited and had representation from key NGO and government agency stakeholders is something more; the delegate list included staff from Amnesty International, the US Department of State, US-AID, the World Bank, and Partnership Africa Canada.  They debated and deliberated with corporate and trade leaders from the World Diamond Council, International Diamond Manufacturers Association, De Beers, and others. 

The agenda for this conference may well set the agenda for the industry’s forward approach.  A dialogue has been opened into four interrelated questions:

Should the diamond industry and consumers buy artisanal diamonds?
What role should consumers and retailers play in helping artisanal diggers?
How can the diamond industry, governments, and NGOs work together to help artisanal diggers?
Can Fair Trade diamonds and jewelry programs help artisanal diggers?

There are no easy answers, but the consensus held that, as Rapaport stated, “sustainable economic development is the only way to move Africa forward.”  Discussion began about the stake the industry could hold in working with development-focused agencies, in an effort to build a competitive market model.

“Development is an experimental business,” noted Ian Smillie of Partnership Africa Canada.  But the diamond industry has the resources to experiment wisely, and participants discussed a framework including developing artisanal site capacities; legalizing and/or formalizing artisanal mining; creating alternative livelihoods for diggers; and addressing water, health, education and other pieces of the development puzzle.

Rapaport didn’t mince words about his, and other industry leaders’, interest in and ability to address these issues.  The Kimberley Process has been good for business, he explained, citing increased overall sales since 1999.  All things considered, he said, “no matter what I do for the rest of my life, it won’t much change what I have for dinner.”  In his mind, for better or worse, his past success affords his presence at the table.

Zwick’s presence, itself notable in the wake of what some construe as an industry-wide attack propagated on the Oscar-nominated film, injected the conference with a sense of ethically-minded, digger interest-driven purpose.  “If you truly believe diamonds represent love,” he proposed, then “what greater love is there than that of your fellow man?”

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