‘The Blood Diamond Myth’

It would be interesting to hear people’s opinions about this argument by writer Adam Hochchild (the author of King Leopold’s Ghost: ) published earlier this year in  Mother Jones magazine:

In the 1960s, many Americans boycotted California table grapes to help farmworkers unionize; in the ’70s and ’80s, we boycotted South Africa to help the anti-apartheid movement. In the late 1990s there was the push to ban “conflict diamonds,” which led to the 2002 agreement, now signed by some 75 countries, to boycott diamonds produced by armed rebel groups in Africa and elsewhere. Shouldn’t we help war-torn Congo by boycotting “conflict minerals”?

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that a boycott would do much more than put tens of thousands of miserably paid miners out of work. Take the rather toothless conflict diamonds accord (which came about only because the international diamond cartel saw “blood diamonds” undercutting its inflated prices): It already applies to Congo, but makes no practical difference since the country’s diamonds, like the overwhelming majority of its other exports, don’t come from areas currently at war. And even when there is a direct connection between war and mining (as with the minerals sold by the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, the genocidaires who have taken refuge in Congo), those exports are vexingly difficult to trace. You can quickly tell where an imported automobile was manufactured, but even the best laboratory tests cannot easily prove where an ounce of gold comes from. Congo’s lengthy borders are impossible to police, and certificates of origin are easily forged.

The real problem is not conflict minerals, but the fact that Congo’s long-suffering people reap only a tiny share of their country’s vast wealth. Yet an alternate example is only a few hundred miles away from Congo’s southern border: Diamond-rich Botswana has used its mines, which are partially owned by the state, to fund infrastructure, education, and health care, as well as set aside a rainy-day fund of nearly $7 billion. A recent joint venture between the government and the diamond giant De Beers is even bringing in some of the cutting and polishing work that used to be done in London, generating thousands of jobs. But Botswana has something essential Congo does not: a government known for being both functional and honest.

Comments

comments

Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

8 Comments
  1. I don't get it- the question around the effectiveness of boycotts ALWAYS involves whether or not it will harm workers. The effective ones have not only gotten major buyers to boycott, but to specify they will gladly resume business when certain guidelines are put in place. Many apparel sweatshops, for instance, have bowed to university demands (usually after years of student/community/faculty efforts) for certain conditions to improve if they'd like to keep business going. The governments which allow these businesses to flourish with poor conditions rarely change – just look at the United States – but at least some workers are able to earn a bit more money, no longer have to put up with beatings, etc. These aren't huge victories, but they are something.

    By this article's logic, no boycotts are ever useful. I think we can all agree that governance is always something we should fight to change in situations this dire, but does that mean we should stop trying for other improvements in the meantime?

  2. Hochchild says the real problem is not conflict minerals but that workers are being exploited. But isnt that the very situation that conflict minerals helps create! So either ways conflict minerals contribute to the poverty of the workers.
    I do agree with Sophia's comment. So the question is how to change that without adding to the existing poverty of workers – I think the Anti-Apartheid boycott did have some influence but then if we look at the boycott against Israel this has not worked. One reason is because almost everyone outside of SA government was against Apartheid and most people in SA also supported the boycott but this is not the case with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The DRC is too a large degree under the radar – not in the consciousness of most people and a boycott is one way of changing that. Maybe a start would be to find out what the mine workers themselves think – what do they want?

  3. The answer can be found in the landmark Sullivan Principles that were applied in South Africa beginning in the early 70s.
    Socially responsible corporations invest in the communities where they do business so that they provide jobs and skills training to ensure that the disenfranchised are given the tools and opppotunity to thrive.

  4. The term blood diamonds or conflict diamonds is a farce, in many ways. In the north east of Angola – where the main bulk of diamonds can be found – the end of the civil /Cold war and the beginning of 'peace' under the MPLA government has made the lives of many garimpeiros (so-called wild cat miners) more dangerous and much less profitable. What has happened is that the elite – the wife of the President for example, and others – have taken over areas that were run by Unita. Their security guards shoot and kill locals who try to mine (to survive and make ends meet) but because they are part of an (er hum) 'elected' government, thse diamonds are apparently not blood/conflict diamonds. And yet, and yet… there's blood and conflict all over them.
    A potted summary, maybe, but you get the gist.

  5. Hochschild is right about this – people who think a boycott of conflict minerals will work don't understand the nature of the economy in the EDRC, or that not all minerals that come from the area are conflict minerals. Ther'es ALWAYS a way to get around regulations, nobody's really in control of the territory, and there's always another market for the goods.

    As we've seen in the last six weeks, the DRC's government's shutdown of the mines in the Kivus and Maniema put about 50,000 people out of work overnight. They are suffering tremendously, with kids who can't eat and bills that can't be paid. The Enough Project, well-intentioned as it was, has created a disaster for these people because of their poorly informed advocacy and insistence on pursuing a path that never works.

    Sean, I'd be really interested in your take on whether the divestment movement and related boycotts were actually what brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

  6. Hochchild's argument depends on his persuasive claim—supported by Prof. Seay—about the unenforceable nature of a conflict minerals ban. The impossibility of enforcement renders irrelevant Sokari's suggestion that mineral wealth helps produce conflict by attracting people willing to do anything at all to collect some of that wealth; true, but, as already noted, a conflict minerals ban will barely slow such people down and certainly not stop them.

    Tragically, we cannot imagine a government like Botswana's coming to power in the DRC any time soon, hence the temptation to seek incremental improvement via a conflict minerals ban. But doing something just because we can't do everything we want to do is not necessarily the same as doing good.

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