De Beers – Friend or foe?

Richard Chetwode

What is a natural diamond if it doesn’t have a social purpose? Let’s take the biggest brand and ask the killer question; “what, if anything, do De Beers and their ForeverMark brand really stand for?” …The answer may inspire you.

Thirty years ago, the simple perception that a natural diamond represented the Ultimate Gift of Love was good enough for most consumers. The internet and social media didn’t exist, and products and brands didn’t have to explain themselves; consumers took most aspects of them on trust.

Today’s young natural diamond jewellery consumer, the Millennials, Generations Y and Z, value honesty and integrity and more than previous generations, they also care about other people. They seek things to trust in, and they trust in brands that they believe in, associate themselves with, that they have learnt about. They want to know that their luxury purchase didn’t only not do harm, but that it did good. They need to feel comfortable that in today’s sustainable conscious environment, their friends think that it is a good thing that they are wearing diamonds. They are not just socially conscious, they are increasingly interested in “Glocal’’, (the commercial world is global, but it’s also local (did the ‘local’ artisans receive a fair wage; what were their working conditions like?). Young consumers want to know “What’s your purpose, what’s your social purpose? What good are you doing?”. They will form an emotional attachment with a brand that has an obvious social purpose… and of course…vice versa.

Only two weeks ago the founder of Scottish Brewery brand Brewdog announced plans to develop their recently acquired 10,000-acre (part of the) Kinrara estate in Scotland into the biggest Native Woodland establishment and Peatland restoration project in the United Kingdom. For every multipack of Brewdog beer purchased, the Company will plant one tree… in the end millions of native trees will be planted. The Brewdog “Lost Forest” should eventually be capable of capturing 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; also included will be a “green” hotel, a sustainable campsite…etc, all to help people reconnect with nature… and all this from a beer brewing company. Why? Because successful companies recognise that today social purpose and sustainability are central to everything they do, in the same way that they are central to everything about successful brands; from the working environment to the way every employee lives, works, eats, sleeps and breaths; from the receptionist to the cleaning person to the driver to the salesperson to the CEO all radiate the values that the company and/or brand stand for. In the end of course, it’s good for business as well.

And that’s a challenge that is yet to be met by some mining companies in general. Many of them have in the past focussed first and foremost on producing (short-term) returns for the shareholders, albeit it as good employers with good working conditions, managing any environment impact within the strict existing rules. Much of their contribution to the communities in which they operated was through employment, taxes (in some countries the tax rates are almost punitive), local outsourcing, upskilling and training. Some have gone further; for instance, donating to local education projects and local small business initiatives, but it is a business environment where shareholders still have absolute primacy over other stakeholders. Too often it seems that Social and Environmental Responsibility and Sustainability are “add-on’s”; something to be done because they “tick a box, or because they are a regulatory requirement to be addressed in the Annual Report. For diamond mining companies specifically who after all, mine not an industrial necessity but the Ultimate Luxury, sustainability either becomes a core value in more than just name or trouble may well lie ahead… because for the ultimate consumer product… the consumer is already watching.

So how do diamonds stack up? The good news is that in general terms, diamond mining is environmentally a very low impact activity. Firstly, there aren’t many diamond mines in the world and secondly, mining diamonds doesn’t involve chemicals which might affect the environment in a permanent way.  

If you want to challenge a single diamond company, the obvious one to look at is De Beers and its “ForeverMark brand”. In both diamond mining and branding they are arguably the biggest and are involved in every part of the diamond pipeline from mine to finger. Full disclosure: I left De Beers twenty years ago but to make this article completely objective, I decided not to speak with anyone there. So here are the questions… “behind all the corporate slogans and Public Relations speak… what do they really stand for? What is their Social Purpose?

It’s widely accepted in the diamond industry that De Beers has been a leader in pushing good business practices. Box ticked on that one. It is also accepted that at the core of their mining and sales operations are responsible mining, good and fair working practices, industry leading environmental standards and ethical sourcing…etc. Another Box ticked. Great stuff, except that a critic would possibly, very reasonably say – isn’t that what any business should be doing anyway? Agreed, so unfair though this may sound, now that we’ve ticked those boxes we’ll leave it at “we are pleased you are doing what we would hope any industry would be doing anyway”, and move on. Better question: is that on its own going to be enough for the new consumer of today…?


Natural diamonds cannot just be the friend of the women who get to wear the diamond jewellery; they must be the best friend of every women involved with natural diamonds

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Source Rough&Polished