Black Panther: Wakanda forever Actor Lupita Nyong’o is one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. So it’s no surprise that she’s one of the most sought-after faces for brands around the world. But Nyong’o is also known for her humanitarianism, which is why her new ambassador to the controversial diamond company De Beers raises eyebrows.
The history of De Beers in the diamond industry
De Beers first came under scrutiny when lawsuits piled up in the late 1990s accusing the company of poor business practices that violated antitrust, unfair competition and consumer protection laws. . The plaintiffs also claimed that De Beers overvalued its diamonds to inflate the diamond industry and monopolize the market (via Tampa Bay Times).
De Beers settled the resulting class action lawsuit for $272.5 million in 2012.
Around the same time, the UN Security Council began investigating the trade in ‘blood diamonds’ (also known as ‘conflict diamonds’) throughout Africa. Defined by the United Nations as “any diamond mined in areas controlled by forces opposed to the legitimate and internationally recognized government of a country and sold to finance military action against that government”, blood diamonds have sparked a global toll ( through Britannica).
Diamonds were mined in rebel-controlled countries, smuggled and sold on the legitimate market, and used to arm those same rebel forces.
When the council released its findings, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd was implicated in the report.
‘Black Panther’ star Lupita Nyong’o knows about political unrest and injustice in Africa
black panther Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico after her parents fled Kenya due to political unrest. Nyong’o’s father, a senator and political activist, told Vogue in 2016 of the events that led to his family’s “voluntary exile”. He described his multiple detentions and interrogations, the searched and ransacked family home, and the mysterious disappearance of Nyong’o’s brother Charles.
The family moved back to Nairobi when Nyong’o was 3 years old, and the actress resided there most of her young life despite her father’s continued persecution.
Although De Beers mines are located primarily in South Africa and the countries of the Central African Republic (CAR) have become best known for the trade in blood diamonds, the effect of diamond mining pervades the continent. . Time reports on intense poverty and incredibly inhumane working conditions in mines employing children.
In a 2014 United Nations report, around 140,000 carats of diamonds were smuggled out of CAR in a single year. Millions of dollars in revenue flow into the hands of rebels every year through blood diamonds which in turn fund more wars and cost more civilian lives.
Is Lupita Nyong’o’s ambassador to De Beers really “where it all begins”?
Since De Beers rose to prominence in the early 2000s, it has become one of the few diamond companies offering jewelers source-to-sale transparency, Time reports. (The brand boasts the “where it begins” tagline in its new campaign with Nyong’o.) This greatly reduces the risk of the company’s jewelry being conflict diamonds and provides today’s consumers with reassurance more ethical.
“We source most of the diamonds for our jewelry from our own mines in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada,” De Beers says on its website. “Our rigorous sourcing procedures, selection processes and certification requirements mean that the diamonds in every De Beers piece of jewelry are guaranteed to be ethically produced and 100% conflict-free.”
Under these conditions, the post of ambassador of Nyong’o seems justified if De Beers works to make the diamond industry – an industry essential to the African economy – more legitimate and more humane.
This is certainly what Nyong’o’s statement seems to convey on the De Beers website, where she refers to her “pride in knowing where [the diamonds] come from.” The Oscar-winning actress also says her new ambassador will allow her to “expand [her] advocacy for women and girls around the world,” presumably through De Beers’ “Building Forever” affiliations.
However, it all seems to hinge on the fact that De Beers is the company it claims to be, and its track record isn’t great. Plus, one has to wonder about Nyong’o’s affiliation with an industry that has ravaged one of her homelands (the actress said she considers herself to be from Mexico and Africa).
We also wonder if Nyong’o’s De Beers ambassador is as “transformative” as the company claims or if her new partnership has made her a blood diamond herself – dazzling, pure, powerful and used to sustain conflict.
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