By Gaetano Cavalieri, President of CIBJO

It is a privilege to be with you in Harare today, and to be in the company of so representative a group of the Africa’s diamond mining leadership. Let me thank our hosts in Zimbabwe, and congratulate the organisers of this important conference.

These are historic days for the diamond industry. Whereas once the compass always pointed north to London, today it points south. Quite possibly it always should have pointed in that southerly direction, but now there is no question.

I would like to preface my remarks today by paying tribute to a diamond industry leader, whose contribution I believe was instrumental in us all gathering here in Harare. I speak, of course, about by good friend Eli Izhakoff.

Eli, I am sure you are aware, was the founding president of the World Diamond Council, which was established in 2000 at the height of the conflict diamond crisis, and he was instrumental in the creation of the coalition between government, industry and civil society that was the foundation of the Kimberley Process.

So central was the role that he played that few realized that the World Diamond Council was actually an observer in the KP and not a full member, which was a privilege available only to governments. This is because Eli was able to demonstrate that the diamond and jewellery industry was an objective intermediary, which was ready to understand and appreciate the concerns and requirements of all sides, and to seek common ground. There were times that the only principle that the opposing sides could agree upon was that Eli should be sitting at the table.

Eli leadership at the WDC made sure that the industry spoke with one voice. He was the glue that kept us together.

And so in July 2010 that it was at a meeting of the World Diamond Council in St. Petersburg, and not a Kimberley Process gathering, that agreement was eventually reached about exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields. While the members of the WDC waited patiently below, Eli kept the sides talking in an upstairs room until a compromise was reached.

The rest as they say is history.

There are those to like to describe members of the business community as being unconcerned about anything other than profit and loss. Eli showed that this is not an accurate perception. Yes, we are always interested in the bottom line, but we understand that to achieve sustainable success, it is necessary to provide benefit to all stakeholders.

The World Diamond Council, in its original format, was acutely aware of the fact that, at its grassroots level, the diamond industry is the source of daily livelihood to literally millions of individuals and families, in the mining regions, as well as the cutting and trading centres. It is not just about big business and corporations, it is also about great many smaller businesses, and even more individuals and communities.

In recent months, there has been some concern that the WDC’s founding principal, which is that it represents all players in the industry, may have been superseded by the more narrow business interests of a handful of large companies in the developed markets.  I can assure you that CIBJO, together with other like-minded representative organisations, is doing all that it can to make sure that supporting the interests of the entire industry and its stakeholders remain at the forefront of our efforts.

For years, decisions at WDC, like at the KP, were taken on a consensus basis. But today, in its new format, WDC has instituted a majority-based voting system, which means that the opinion of well in excess of 90 percent of the industry – which is represented in WDC by representative organisations like CIBJO – can simply be disregarded. This was one of the key reasons for which we chose not to attend the recent WDC Annual Meeting in Antwerp.

Also staying away from the meeting – and I would like to thank them for their principled stand – were other representative organisations, including the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, India’s Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council, the Belgian Federation of Diamond Bourses, the Israel Diamond Exchange, the Dubai Diamond Exchange, the Bharat Diamond Exchange in Mumbai, and the Israel Diamond Institute.

Unfortunately, it means that decisions taken in Antwerp, which will guide the WDC at the upcoming KP Plenary Meeting in China, will reflect the opinion of but a handful of companies in our industry, and not the majority of participants.

As Zimbabwe and the other African producing countries understand well, it the business of diamonds that able to translate demand for luxury products into economic opportunity in developing countries.

For us the industry, it took a while to fully appreciate the role we must play.

Initially we concerned ourselves with the creation of defensive systems like the Kimberley Process, all of which were designed to ensure that gems and jewellery do no harm. This principle was at the basis of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme that was introduced in 2003.

But around 2004 we began discussing within CIBJO an expanded vision of Corporate Social Responsibility, by which the jewellery industry would seek not only to NOT impact negatively on society and the environment, but also to serve as a positive economic and social force, especially in the countries in which we were active.

It was this new understanding which inspired us to initiate contact with the United Nations, eventually leading to CIBJO’s becoming the jewellery industry first and only member in the UN’s Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, in 2006.

In 2007 the annual CIBJO congress took place in Cape Town, and it was the first time that such an industry event was held in Africa.

In the presence of the South African deputy president and ministers from governments throughout the region, our General Assembly ratified a statement that has since become known as the Cape Town Declaration.

It noted the role of the world jewellery industry in promoting Corporate Social Responsibility, and recognised “that the jewellery industry, as a member of the international business community, shares a responsibility toward the greater society in seeking practical solutions towards the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, as well as to developing a global partnership for development.”

In my opening speech at the congress in South Africa I made the following call: “When consumers buy jewellery, they should know that not only is it an expression of value, beauty and emotion, but they have contributed to making a better life for people who need it most dearly.”

When it comes to sustainable development, there is no one, single programme that our industry must undertake, but rather a variety of programmes. Involved should be major and junior mining houses, industry organisations, jewellery and gemstone companies and NGOs that are financially supported by our industry. The programmes should range from gem cutting and jewellery craftsmanship training courses in Africa, to tourism projects in areas where the mines are reaching the end of their productive lives, to programmes that support the health and wellbeing of our industry’s employees, especially through the prevention of HIV-AIDS.

We talk a lot about sustainability today, but what does it mean?  I suggest that there are three types of sustainability, all of which need to achieved.

These are:

•          economic sustainability

•          environmental sustainability

•          and stakeholder or community sustainability.

For the sake of accuracy, I cannot claim ownership over this analysis. The World Summit on Social Development in 2005 identified three basic sustainable development goals, which it defined as economic development, environmental protection and social development.

Let us take those three elements one by one.

Economic sustainability requires us to use our resources in an efficient and responsible way, so that our business will function profitably over the long-term.

Please note that the words “business” and “profit” feature prominently in that definition. Neither one is the natural enemy of the stakeholder. On the contrary, in order to be sustainable a business must be profitable.

The essential importance of economic sustainability must be appreciated by the business community, which needs to be prepared to take a long-term approach, sometimes at the expense of short-term profit. It also needs to be appreciated by government regulators, who must do their utmost to protect their country’s natural environment and social fabric, while at the same ensuring that the economy is allowed to function.

The second element, environmental sustainability, can be defined as enabling the ecosystems in our environment to continue operating, without being negatively affected by our business activities.

At our most recent congress in Moscow, we invited a carbon foot-printing expert to profile CIBJO as an organization, to ascertain how much of an impact we make upon the environment. In doing so, we hoped to act as a model for companies in the industry.

The third element, stakeholder or community sustainability, or what also has been referred to as social sustainability, connects to a great deal of the work that CIBJO has been involved in consultative status with the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council in 2006, and where we committed the international jewellery sector to helping fulfil the UN’s Millennium Development Goals which were declared in 2000, and more recently the UN’s Post 2015 Development Agenda.

What we committed to was the principle that, while jewellery is a non-essential item, in certain parts of the world the jewellery industry is an essential business sector, providing a livelihood and looking after the wellbeing of literally millions of ordinary people. Our obligation is to ensure that our activities provide them with sustainable economic opportunities that will help secure the future of generations to come.

In the gemstone and mineral sectors, stakeholder sustainability means investing in the communities so that its natural resources will continue to pay dividends long after the resources themselves are depleted.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we are here today.

But please be sure: in saying I am not underestimating the beauty of a diamond or a magnificent piece of jewellery, but I am recognising the tremendous opportunity that our business offers a country like Zimbabwe.

They say a diamond is forever. So should be the positive economic and social benefits that diamonds are able to create.