Sunday, December 17, 2006

Blood diamonds

The Hollywood film 'Blood Diamond' opened in US theatres recently. It is set in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s, when illegal diamond mining was used to find one of the most vicious rebellions Africa has ever known.

The Christian Science Monitor notes that a self-policing process appears to be cleaning up the industry.

The mechanism, known as the Kimberley Process, was implemented in 2000 under pressure from non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

To me, this is a model example of how NGOs can effect positive change in international affairs. There was not demand for governments to impose punitive action or onerous regulations against diamond companies. Instead, NGOs successfully made 'blood diamonds' part of the vocabulary. This was devastating since diamonds have few practical applications and their demand and extremely high retail cost are based almost entirely on image. This naming and shaming convinced diamond companies that it was in their interest to agree to some sort of regulatory process.

This is called enlightened self-interest. The diamond industry didn't adopt these regulations because it suddenly had a tinge of guilt. Selling diamonds is an amoral activity. But activists made it so doing the right thing morally was the best thing for the industry's bottom line. In the end, a diamond boycott would hurt those engaging in legitimate mining, such as Botswana, Africa's oldest democracy.

Large corporations will always have a far greater influence on government than citizen groups, especially in the United States with its negligible campaign finance regulations. Influencing corporate-sponsored politicians will always be a long shot for citizen groups. And though government lobbying shouldn't be dismissed out of hand in all cases, appealing to enlightened corporate self-interest should be the primary tactic employed by activist organizations.

One World adds that although much progress has been made in cleaning up blood diamonds, some work still remains to be done.

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