An Open Letter to Leonardo DiCaprio, by Rob Bates of JCK

Opinion piece
28/01/2016 23:41

Rob Bates of JCK has published an open letter to Leonardo DiCaprio, of Blood Diamond fame, urging him to reconsider his support for new synthetic diamond producer Diamond Foundry, and to remember the social realities that once moved him. "Back in 2006, you seemed profoundly impacted by your meeting with one of the great figures of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela. You told one interviewer: 'Ultimately, diamonds are a source of social and economic stability in Africa, so this movie isn’t to say people shouldn’t buy diamonds.' Today," writes Bates, "you seem to have changed your tune."

Bates takes issue with his rationale, the idea that synthetic diamonds harm no one. This is faulty logic. "For lab-grown diamonds to actually show a benefit, they have to replace natural diamonds. But that brings about an even bigger problem. Some 10 million people depend on the diamond industry and diamond mining in particular, sometimes in the poorest areas of the world. That’s a lot of livelhoods at stake. Diamonds make up 30% of Botswana’s GDP and 70% of its foreign exchange earnings. Take that money away, and you are putting a knife in the heart of the economy of one of the few African success stories."

As this report on lab-grown diamonds puts it: "For Botswana ... the stakes could not be greater. Botswana is also the world’s most diamond dependent economy and a catastrophic decline in price and profitability of the sector as a result of a loss of consumer confidence in the long term value of diamond as a store of value is a definite but unquantifiable risk." Or as former president Festus Mogae says: When [American consumers] buy Botswana diamonds, they are putting food on people’s tables and providing education for children. They are providing antiretroviral drugs for AIDS…. When they purchase diamonds, they are helping people who might otherwise starve." The end of the natural diamond industry would also cripple the economies of South Africa, Namibia, and even Sierra Leone.

As Mandela said in 2006: "It would be deeply regrettable if the making of [Blood Diamond] inadvertently obscured the truth, and, as a result, led the world to believe that an appropriate response might be to cease buying mined diamonds from Africa. We hope that the desire to tell a gripping and important real life historical story will not result in the destabilization of African diamond producing countries, and, ultimately their peoples." Bates concludes that, "Lab-grown diamonds are a fine product. They are now part of the diamond industry. There are countless reasons why people may buy them, including the price, proof of origin, and designs being offered. But consumers, including you, must understand that buying a lab-grown diamond is not a big moral statement, as much as some may believe so."