Tag: conflict diamonds

“Sure I’m against war and exploitation- but don’t make me feel guilty about my diamond ring”

Wanna know a guaranteed conversation stopper- great for engagement parties or wedding receptions? Mention the politics of diamonds.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not into being a political Debbie Downer at social events. God knows I have the ammunition. Yet, in my experience women and men are more comfortable with discussions of wartime sexual violence, amputations, and children born as a result of rape than they are about clear gems.
So what gives?

This has been a question plaguing since I finished several months of field work in Sierra Leone in my late 20s- the same time that everyone around me was getting engaged and getting married. This also coincided with the peak (and, it turns out, the rapid decline) in attention to conflict/blood diamonds by human rights organizations and the media.

No one wants to be that self-righteous white girl who has just returned from the global south with lessons to impart on anyone who will listen- so I tried to reserve my rants about diamonds for my husband (bless him), my single friends (‘who wants diamonds anyway!’), or people who were already convinced that diamonds are a source of international exploitation.

To me, three main arguments against diamonds were clear and irrefutable.

  1. The obvious argument (to me, at least): many diamonds are blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. It has been shown time and time again that the money from the sales of diamonds has been used to buy arms, support rebel groups, and sustain oppressive leaders in places like Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia. Buying diamonds help support civil wars and continued exploitation.
  2. There is no such thing as ethical diamonds. I swear, the next time someone tells me they bought a 100% genuine conflict free diamond I will break my diamond rant silence. I’m Canadian. I know that there are diamonds that come from Canada and other parts of the world that are marketed as ethical. Here’s the Debbie Downer reality. De Beers owns over a 51% share in half of Canada’s diamond mines. This is the same cartel that was established by former colonizer Cecil Rhodes and that has been lilnked with supporting apartheid, allowing slave labor conditions, and price fixing (amongst other charges). The extra money someone pays for the ethical diamond still supports a cartel that also sells diamonds mined in conflict zones, and under conditions of exploitation and slave labor. So when someone buys an ethical diamond it is like they are buying a Lexus while those buying ‘non-ethical’ diamonds are choosing the Echo- either way, both are supporting Toyota. The ethical buyer just happen to be the high end client. Another bummer for diamond lovers is the fact that the majority of diamonds are cut and polished in India (yes even ethical diamonds); there is mounting evidence of child labor being used to do this. I know, it keeps getting worse….so it’s like buying a Lexus that was put together using child labor?…
  3. Finally. If the blood/conflict argument and the non-ethical arguments don’t work, there’s always the ‘you are just paying WAY too much money for a common stone marketed as a rare gem‘ argument. In other words- smart people are getting duped by the best ad campaign in history (more on that in another post).

So there is no shortage of arguments against diamonds. In fact, new ones seem to emerge all the time (have a look at a fantastic blog about this topic at Al Jazeera). For example, there have been recent discussions of the abuse of diamond miners in Zimbabwe. Why is Zimbabwe allowed to sell diamonds legally through the Kimberly process with thief Mugabe as a leader? Good question.

Despite all the arguments against diamonds, discussing any of them is still a social taboo of sorts. What is even more interesting has been watching- one by one- friends who were also passionate about this issue, people whom I know have worked in countries with the diamond resource curse, and friends who used to cheer ‘who needs diamonds?’ go to the dark side. That is, beam with joy and give me the ‘please don’t make me feel guilty about this’ look when they get a diamond engagement ring.

And I don’t say anything. But with recent developments in Zimbabwe, and a virtual closed door on discussions about diamonds and exploitation internationally I can’t help but send out my frustrations here and ask the questions again, that I have been asking myself for over a decade: How is it possible that gems linked to slave labor, wars, amputation, environmental destruction, and cartels continue to be the symbol of everlasting love? and Why does the personal desire for a symbol of wedding fairy tales trump any logical arguments about the reality behind diamonds? I’d love to hear your ideas and I’m going to try to tackle this question in a second blog….coming soon.


Scott Pelley to Wal-Mart: Stop Using Congo Gold in Your Jewelry

60 Minutes ran an excellent expose on conflict minerals in the Congo last night. You can see some of it here:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Good coverage of an under-reported area of the world. It left me with two thoughts:

First, via Facebook, my colleague Virginia Haufler suggests this story shows that corporations rather than states are running the show in issue areas such as conflict minerals – both as trouble-makers and potential governors. (Haufler makes this argument at greater length in a chapter of a forthcoming book, Who Governs the Globe) And I thought the same thing when I first watched the segment. Certainly as Scott Pelley framed it, corporations should be the targets of influence for consumer campaigns aimed at stemming the flow of conflict minerals. Still, I’m not sure that means states don’t have a role to play in enforcing such codes of conduct. I think it may mean not that corporations rule but that issue areas like conflict minerals are cases where multi-level, multi-stakeholder governance would be required to create solutions. The Kimberley Process for conflict diamonds exemplified this approach (though it is not without its drawbacks, as this new report suggests). Certainly the segment suggested that we need an advocacy movement for “conflict gold” like the one for “conflict diamonds” in order to bring corporations and source countries to heel in the service of a more humane trading system.

But in that regard, I was left with another question. The role of the gold trade in fueling conflicts may have previously been overshadowed by the earlier success story of the conflict diamonds campaign, in a classic case of “permissive norm effects.” By highlighting a small piece of a bigger problem, campaigns risk legitimizing or at least rendering less visible the other pieces of the problem. But DRC is the source of many minerals critical to Northern industries, not just gold. In the same way that diamonds from African mines were regulated to the exclusion of gold, does the narrow focus on gold now risk coming at the expense of attention to other lucrative minerals, such as coltan?

Notably, organizations working in the area of DRC conflict resources, such as Global Witness and the Enough Project, are taking a broad view, so the focus on gold may be the media’s rather than the campaign’s.

UPDATE: I was able to reach John Prendergast, who appeared in the segment, to verify whether 60 Minutes’ characterization of the issue maps onto the Enough Project’s campaign. He told me that though Pelley locked onto gold early on and retained that focus throughout, advocacy groups such as Enough are actually focusing on consumer electronics – not just coltan but:

“the three T’s: tin, tungsten and tantalum… we’re focusing on cell phones, laptops and other electronic products because everyone uses them and if we demand conflict free electronic products the supply and demand logic will help do the job.”

A wise strategy, in my mind. What do readers think?


Glitterati Power

From USA Today: “Darfur Benefit Party Brings Celebs Out in Force

While Forest Whitaker chatted with a refugee, his wife, Keisha, worked a table selling her line of lip gloss, with money going to the IRC. Her top seller: the shade she named Forest.

Whitaker, who arrived directly from the Toronto set of Repossession Mambo, said issue-oriented films remain high on his agenda. In March, he’ll shoot Hurricane Katrina-related The Patriots, to be directed by Tim Story (Fantastic Four).

Shopping for jeans and dresses, Heather Graham said she was disappointed “that our country isn’t doing more for Darfur. Africa’s one of those places that really needs help.”

It’s easy to make light of the glitterati for this self-serving humanitarianism. (For another example, click here.) Celebrities use causes to brand themselves.

But so what?

Governments do the same thing when they tie foreign aid to official recognition of their beneficence. And whether it is Bono peddling poverty reduction, George Clooney advocating for Darfur, or Leonardo diCaprio condemning conflict diamonds, celebrity sponsorship seems to go hand in hand with public awareness of global issues.

But scholars of humanitarian affairs should be asking: under what conditions are these humanitarian players effective in practical terms, and at what? Is theirs an agenda-setting effect: can the rise of new issues in the transnational primordial soup be traced to celebrity influence? Or do they essentially bandwagon on issues that have already gained prominence? If so does this at least have a catalyzing effect on transforming campaigns into mass movements? Do they exercise power, as Dan Drezner’s recent National Interest piece argues, through social networks of access to policymakers and donors – civic activism plus? Or, is the power of celebrities not their personal crusades but the stories they tell on screen?


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