November 12, 1999
Press Picks Up "Dirty Diamonds" African Story
The New York Post and the Dallas Morning News published stories this week presenting a one-sided view of the ongoing controversy over war-torn African countries using diamonds to fund human rights abuses. This publicity coupled with recent legislative actions indicate jewelers should be prepared to answer questions from local newspapers about the issue.
Both newspapers focused on the nefarious uses of diamonds, including Angolan rebel group UNITA's sale of stones to buy arms and violate peace treaties. The articles didnot include statistics showing one in two diamonds comes from southern Africa (Namibia, Botswana and South Africa), where democratic governments use funds from diamond production to support growth and prosperity for its people, said Nicky Oppenheimer, chairman of De Beers, in an address yesterday in Johannesburg. De Beers shares 50% of the ownership in diamond mines with the governments of Namibia and Botswana, further helping the governments maintain stable economies.
Investec Securities, a South African business analysis firm, told the newspaper Johannesburg Business Day that "support for hampering trade in 'dirty diamonds' could gather momentum and harm consumer confidence."
When answering reporters' questions, you'll need to be clear on a few facts:
Also decide whether you support the bill before Congress that would require disclosure of a diamond's country of origin. Reporters may ask for your views on this bill. Though such a law would add to the cost of diamonds and will doubtless be difficult to implement, such a measure may go a long way towards dissuading consumers to boycott all diamonds due to the abuses of a few diamond producing countries. (Read more about the bill here.)
- Of all the world's diamonds, 90% are mined in places other than the African war zones cited by news reports (such as Angola, Sierra Leone and Liberia).
- De Beers hasn't done business in Sierra Leone or Liberia since the mid-1980s. It has adhered to diamond sanctions the United Nations imposed on Angola since they were announced in June 1998 and has worked with Robert Fowler, who heads the U.N. sanctions committee, in overseeing the ban. It also recently decided to cut off all purchases of diamonds from Angola when it became apparent that even government-sold diamonds might be tainted. De Beers is considering suspending buying operations in West and Central Africa due to ongoing concerns about the uses of diamonds in those regions, according to Oppenheimer.
- There are two distinct ways in which diamonds have been used in Africa. Oppenheimer pointed out that "an orderly mining [operation] within a transparent and predictable legislative and fiscal framework can be a major source of prosperity for governments and people." Botswana and Namibia illustrate this. On the other hand, diamonds' portability and high value make them perfect tools to be "a magnet for the greedy and corrupt to line their own pockets at the expense of the people" in war-torn countries, according to Oppenheimer.
- by Peggy Jo Donahue