An emerging trend initiated by the World Diamond Council (WDC), the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) and Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF) aims to provide funds garnered by worldwide diamond sales for the development of backwater regions where precious gems are a natural resource. The new agenda calls for the social, educational and economic advancement of diamond mining locales in African countries such as the DROC, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa.
Over the years, many of the impoverished residents of these areas turned to indigenous diamond mines for basic sustenance, having no other alternative means of support. Though their toils took place under appalling conditions, e.g. overcrowding, starvation wages and the lack of sick days, basic labor laws and social benefits, they produced enormous wealth for diamond traders who sold their gems to prosperous consumers and collectors in far-off countries. This longstanding exploitation of artisanal diamond miners is now being counteracted by a new movement that is transforming the diamond industry.
At the 2012 WDC Annual Meeting held in Italy, South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources, Ms. Susan Shabangu, addressed the socio-economic issues associated with the diamond industry and called for the empowerment of disadvantaged miners. This fresh approach recognizes the interdependency between the artisanal miner and the trader on the retail market, with the aim to offset the glaring imbalance between them. The development is a natural outgrowth of the Kimberley Process, which seeks to protect the interests of all the stakeholders in the diamond pipeline. Above all, this newfound awareness of the plight of the artisanal miner responds to the sensitivities of many diamond consumers who associate their precious gems with a sense of mythic romance which is pure and untainted.
The non-profit DDI runs a number of programs for the benefit of artisanal miners who toil in “alluvial mining” sites, which are labor intensive as the diamond deposits are found close to the Earth’s surface and scattered over vast areas (as opposed to Kimberlite “pipe mining” sites, which rely more on heavy machinery). DDI programs include: A comprehensive education initiative covering issues such as human rights, the value of diamonds, turning a small scale mining operation into a business, land rehabilitation of old mines for agricultural purposes, and advancing mining techniques from artisanal to mechanized level. The DDI seeks the sponsorship of diamond retailers and suppliers in a bid to encourage them to respond to consumer demands for uncorrupted “ethical diamonds.”
In a similar vein, the non-profit DEF has partnered with a host of diamond companies for the purpose of promoting various youth education, vocational training and leadership development programs in diamond producing countries. Notably, the DEF has established a scholarship program for admission to the African Leadership Academy, whose graduates have advanced to top American universities such as Harvard, Yale and other leading higher education institutes.
With these vital programs now in progress, an alliance of WDC member nations, non-profit organizations and cooperative diamond traders is driving the economic development of the diamond mining sector.