Diamond Benefits for Africa
By Peggy Jo Donahue
It seems fitting, in an issue focusing on ethnic customers, to update you on efforts to help Africans gain more benefits from the diamond riches of their lands. After you read the update, you may wonder how its relevant to you. But the demand for corporate social responsibility is growing among consumers, so it makes good business sense to know the basics of whats going on overseas. You never know when a human rights group will publicize this issue and ask whether you buy diamonds that support efforts to improve the lives of Africans.
Last year, African leaders began seriously lobbying the diamond industry to help Africans build local diamond enterprises. Resentment is growing in Africa toward mining companies that take materials such as diamonds, gold and platinum out of the ground and immediately to cutters and manufacturers in other countries. Africans say they want to cut the gems and make the jewelry themselves.
The sticking point with diamonds is that Africa doesnt have a traditional cutting industry except for South Africa, which has a considerable track record thanks to De Beers. But cost is a factor there, because wages are higher than in countries such as India. De Beers feels its economically best for local cutters for it to send diamonds to London for sorting and then return the most appropriate rough to South Africa.
The African officials who would rather the diamonds stay in Africa wonder whether marketing gems labeled as made in Africa and vetted as non-conflict diamonds by the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme would appeal to socially conscious consumers. Maverick diamantaire Lev Leviev got into the act by opening a diamond cutting factory in Namibia last year, with plans for more factories in Angola and Botswana. Despite the belief that it isnt economical, Leviev insists local cutting make sense. His efforts have been received with enthusiasm in Africa.
In February, De Beers executives spoke of plans to enhance their contributions to development of diamond industries in southern Africa. Whether these efforts are economically viable depends on several factors, including initiatives to shorten the diamond pipeline between mine and retailer and whether consumers will pay more for diamonds that support Africa.
In early March, De Beers announced it is cofounding the Diamond Development Initiative with several human rights groups. DDI includes representatives of national governments, including the U.S., and economic groups. Its exploring the viability of establishing an initial partnership of parties in western and central Africa to mine alluvial diamonds for the greater benefit of local miners, communities and governments.
These efforts are a hopeful sign for Africa. Its also a real opportunity for diamantaires and jewelers to link their businesses to a good cause economic empowerment for all Africans. Tracing a diamonds provenance to peaceful African nations could be a good story to tell your customers about supporting local people in a part of the world that needs help.