Bloody Diamonds

Diamonds are forever

About a month ago my friend Paul was posting about the upcoming blockbuster Blood Diamond and wondering why Diamond Facts – the website set up by the diamond industry to dispel the film’s central idea that the diamond trade might be fuelling conflict in Africa – wasn’t linking to Global Witness, the NGO that has been at the forefront of much of the (often risky) research on the issue.

Well, here‘s why. Global Witness, Amnesty International USA and… er… Warner Bros have joined forces to launch a new website, Blood Diamond Action, where Diamond Facts’ claim that more than 99% of diamonds are now from conflict-free sources is bluntly contested:

It is extremely difficult to estimate the current percentage of conflict diamonds as smuggling can easily take place outside government controls, creating a trade in illicit diamonds. Illicit trade, thought to represent up to 20% of global trade, shows that there are serious loopholes in the Kimberley Process. Any type of diamond smuggling highlights weak spots in a system through which conflict diamonds can potentially infiltrate. Poor government controls also allow some conflict diamonds to be certified as ‘conflict-free’. Some members of the diamond industry are knowingly flouting international and national law, yet the lack of industry oversight and willingness to find and expel unscrupulous members of the trade allows these traders to operate with impunity. [The Truth About Diamonds, downloadable PDF]

De Beers must be very unhappy about this…

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11 responses to “Bloody Diamonds

  1. Diamonds are extremely useful in certain industrial and mechanical processes and I know some of us may want to eventually get married but COME ON – the Western world’s lust for draping outselves in pressurized carbon is destroying Africa like the insatiable lust for gold destroyed Central and South America in a previous epoch. We’re really no better than raccoons in some ways, drawn as we are to glittery things. You know how they trap raccoons? You put something shiny in a small cavity – the raccoons reach in to grasp it but can’t withdraw their fist because its bigger than the opening of the hole. But they don’t want to let go of the shiny object so they keep tugging ineffectually until some hunter comes around the next day and clubs them to death. Honestly, for all the talk about “exposing” the diamond trade, we should stop focusing on the supply side and consider how easily and immediately we could effect the demand side: step 1) buying diamonds is stupid anyway – do you know what I can do with three months’ salary? Live for three months! step 2) if you must watch TV, surely you can manage to mock the saccharine De Beers and other diamond peddler commercials with the soft focus lens effect and chisled white people trading their love with small rocks. Simple as that, really. Oh, but I could go on and on…

  2. My friend, your intellectual rigour sometimes lacks focus. On the very same report by Global Witness the case of Botswana is presented. There, depite the difficulties, the diamond trade has been managed openly and transparently, and has contributed enormously to the economic and social growth of the country. Who cares if people want to drape themselves in pressurized carbon. As long as it makes African societies more prosperous, I don’t care.

  3. Alberto – I am making an aesthetic and moral argument about decadent Western society. But to respond to your contentions: To the degree that Botswana prospers at all from its relationship with De Beers it is probably because of its particular demographic characteristics that facilitate a strong state: low population density (1.7 million people in an area the size of Texas, which has 22 million people) and relative ethnolinguistic homogeneity (excepting the San who probably do not benefit very much from the diamond trade). Considering that 33% of Botswana’s GDP (and 70% of its export earnings) is from diamond mining, you would think that this amount (about $3 billion in real terms) would be equally distributed and everyone would live in a rentier paradise drawn from the ground. You would be wrong: the nice relatively middle income $10,000 GDP/capita cloaks a 30-50% poverty rate and extreme income inequality, with 1% of the population controlling as much wealth as the bottom 40% – sort of like, say, the U.S.! Meanwhile, unemployment is chronic at 40% – I guess there just aren’t enough mining jobs to go around – and HIV/AIDS is threatening to kill 30% of the adult population in the next two decades. The pall of decreasing diamond production hangs over the whole scenario.

    What I’m saying is that this is the wrong kind of development: owned, operated, and controlled by the world’s most fabulously successful cartel that will withdraw along with all removable assets when the mines run out. What happens to Botswana after 1/3 of its GDP disappears is not preordained but I think it will not be desirable.

  4. Who is to say whether it is the right or “wrong” kind of development. Diamonds are incomes. How those incomes are managed is part of a complex political and social process.

    Mining is not great on providing jobs, what else do you recommend for a country like Botswana?

    Yes, it is hard to tell where diamonds are from, which means the regulatory process needs to get it’s act together. Sadly, while I haven’t seen it, I doubt “Blood Diamond” will add a rationale voice to the regulatory debate.

    Anyway, the real issue is that Leo will never make another movie as good a “Titanic”. He should retire.

  5. I decided. I don’t like you any more. Both of you.
    I am going to find more interesting friends. Imaginary ones, if necessary.

  6. I’ll be your friend.

    (nice post, I just linked to it)

  7. Pingback: Cutting Edge Movie « Brett Keller & the World

  8. excellent, brett. i knew i had better friends out there!

    jon, paul: eat your diamonds!

  9. Pingback: GlobaLab weekly round-up: 24/02/07-02/03/07 « GlobaLab

  10. Pingback: Cutting Edge Movie « globalizati

  11. i love diamonds

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