American jeweler Tiffany’s wont take Zimbabwean diamonds over rights abuses

Zimbabwe diamonds Tiffany's
Tiffany's is growing its Africa presence, but Zimbabwe not on its map over transparency concerns (pic: Getty Images)

Tiffany & Co, the leading American luxury jeweler, says it does not stock Zimbabwean diamonds over human rights concerns, a reflection of the long road still ahead in the country’s push to clean up the image of its gems.

Tiffany’s buys its diamonds from Russia, Sierra Leone, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, but does not do business with Zimbabwe, citing human rights concerns, Bloomberg reported.

“If you buy from a world-class brand, it’s because you trust that this brand has done all that is humanly possible to guarantee that the product is not only crafted to the highest standard, but also ethical and traceable in its manufacturing,’’ Tiffany’s CEO, Alessandro Bogliolo, was quoted as saying on Monday. The company also does not buy Angolan diamonds, he said.

Tiffany’s is currently expanding its diamond cutting and polishing work force in Africa, but does not yet have a single store on the continent.

The Kimberley Process, the global diamond certification body, lifted a ban on Zimbabwean diamonds in 2011 after a series of inspections. However, under US measures on Zimbabwe, American companies such as Tiffany’s still cannot buy diamonds from the country.

This year, Tiffany’s started to share the origin of its diamonds with customers, an initiative Bogliolo believes will push the entire industry to follow suit.

In the US and elsewhere, younger shoppers now increasingly demand ethical buying from retailers. The negative perception around Zimbabwe’s political situation may continue to shut Zimbabwean diamonds from key markets.

The US is a huge market that Zimbabwe is missing out on. Tiffany’s alone has annual sales of US$4.4billion. The diamond industry as a whole is about US$80 billion a year, according to DeBeers.

Zimbabwean diamonds got a bad reputation after the invasion of the Marange diamond fields by thousands of illegal miners in the 2000s. The military crackdown that followed to restore order in the fields further alienated the industry, with human rights groups claiming smuggling by government and security forces and rights abuses. Despite winning Kimberley Process certification, controversy remained as government and State-aligned joint ventures monopolised mining.

In 2016, government booted out the miners and gave itself all control of diamond mining in the area. Hoping to clean up the industry, government announced a new diamond policy in December, which allowed private companies to return to the fields. Russia’s Alrosa, RioZim, State-owned ZCDC, Chinese firm Anjin and UK-listed Vast Resources are to share diamond production.

In his 2019 budget statement, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube also took further steps to increase transparency, announcing that Zimbabwe would join the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, a global standard for the extractive resources under which Zimbabwe would be compelled to more openly disclose data on minerals, production and earnings.

However, Tiffany’s position shows how much more work Zimbabwe still needs to do before its diamonds are viewed as completely clean.

In 2018, the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, a group of resource activists, said “we find it extremely difficult to classify Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds as conflict free” due to the security measures in the area. Local pressure group Zimbabwean Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu this year appealed to the UN to classify Zimbabwe as “blood diamonds”. The activists plan to lobby for Zimbabwean diamonds to be banned at a UN meeting this September.