Living up to diamonds

In November 2002, a unique alliance of 50 countries, the United Nations, a number of leading NGOs and the diamond industry came together to tackle the scourge of conflict diamonds.

The clear focus and determination of these players led to the creation of the Kimberley Process — an agreement of unparalleled scope in the natural resources sector.

Importers, exporters and the diamond industry accomplished something many thought impossible — we virtually eliminated conflict diamonds from the global supply chain, and to this day, 99,8% of all diamonds come from conflict-free sources.

Whether you personally like diamonds or not, few would dispute that they hold special meaning for millions of people around the world. Unlike the latest flat-screen TV or designer handbag, the diamond has an enduring value that transcends generations and geographies. In uncertain times, diamonds not only hold their financial value, but they also hold an emotional relevance to those that give and receive them — often marking new love or old memories. Providing confidence about where these special symbols that mark moments in our lives come from is integral to their enduring value.

For those that recover, cut, polish and sell them, our ability to live up to diamonds is an inherent part of their value, which is why we are deeply concerned by the situation at the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe.

Over the past year, a number of reports from courageous journalists, NGOs and the Kimberley Process itself have detailed a distressing situation in which the diamond deposits in the Marange region were commandeered by the Zimbabwe military.

While this occurred before the new government of national unity was formed, it has nonetheless drawn the attention of the international community.

The Kimberley Process ensures that every diamond exported from a diamond-producing country and imported into a diamond-manufacturing country is accompanied by a certificate verifying that the diamond hasn’t been used by a rebel force to fund conflict, and that it is fully compliant with the Kimberley Process’s requirements.

While the details about the situation in Zimbabwe may be less than clear, the country’s responsibility to live up to diamonds is perfectly clear. De Beers supports the Kimberley Process’s recent decision to place diamonds from Marange under an intensive 12-month monitoring and auditing programme.

While De Beers would have preferred more decisive action — including temporary suspension from the Kimberley Process, which would have effectively halted the country’s export of diamonds until the issues in question were fully addressed — we also recognise the unique framework of governments, civil society and industry that the Kimberley Process represents, and the commitment by Zimbabwe not to export any diamonds from Marange until the monitoring programme is in place.

While we do no business in Zimbabwe, and while it is true that the diamonds originating from Marange represent only a tiny fraction of global supply, De Beers, along with the rest of the world, will nevertheless be watching the monitoring programme closely.

We will provide any expertise that is asked of us, and we fully expect the Kimberley Process to take the further action it itself stipulated should no change in the situation on the ground be forthcoming by the end of the 12-month programme.

In the end, diamonds, or any natural resource for that matter, can be a country’s greatest source of prosperity or paucity. It is the leaders who must choose the path, which is why good governance is a key factor in turning natural resources into shared national wealth.

For example, just next door to Zimbabwe is Botswana. Since its independence from Britain in 1966, Botswana has enjoyed good, democratic leadership and has prudently managed its diamond resources — Botswana is the world’s leading diamond producer — to move from one of the world’s poorest countries to a middle-income country with consistent economic growth, sound infrastructure and little corruption. Diamonds are the lifeblood of Botswana’s economy and this Christmas consumers will buy more diamonds from Botswana than from any other source on Earth.

In today’s diamond industry, Botswana is not the exception, Zimbabwe is. We hope, for the people of Zimbabwe, that its leaders embrace this chance to live up to diamonds.

Nicky Oppenheimer is the chairperson of De Beers

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