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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Zimbabwe diamond ban: US Embassy has no evidence of forced labour

The United States Embassy in Harare, which influenced its capital to bar rough diamonds from Zimbabwe on allegations of forced labour, yesterday admitted it had no primary evidence of the practice, but relied on reports from third parties.

This week, US authorities issued a so-called Withhold Release Order preventing Zimbabwean parcels from entering the American market.

Stakeholders viewed this as a fresh attempt to blacklist Zimbabwean goods ahead of a Kimberly Process Certification Scheme intercession meeting slated for India next month.

Interestingly, there is another ongoing process of undermining Zimbabwe’s enjoyment of its natural resources as the US is set to promulgate an anti-trophy hunting law called “Cecil Act” purportedly inspired by the killing of Cecil the Lion at Hwange National Park by an American millionaire dentist, Walter Palmer, in 2015.

US Embassy spokesperson Ms Stacy Lomba yesterday admitted the US had no authoritative information on the alleged forced labour practices in Zimbabwe.

“Widespread public reporting indicates that adults and children are being coerced into diamond mining in the Marange diamond fields,” said Ms Lomba.

“As the US law prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labour, CBP will issue a Withhold Release Order (WRO) for artisanal rough diamonds of Zimbabwe origin. WRO is not a ban on imports of artisanal rough diamonds from Zimbabwe.

Rather, importers who contend that their particular diamonds were not mined with forced labour can submit evidence to CBP that supports their contention in accordance with our laws,” said Ms Lomba.

In interviews yesterday, key stakeholders in the diamond sector decried the US stance against Zimbabwean diamonds.

Zimbabwe Consolidated Mining Company spokesperson Mr Sugar Chagonda said the company’s employment policy was guided by the Labour Act which did not allow recruitment of children or forced labour.

“Certainly, ZCDC is a law-abiding corporate citizen and does not practise child labour. Our employment policy is strictly guided by the Constitution and the Labour Act and we are not sure where that is coming from,” said Mr Chagonda.

Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe (MMCZ) general manager Mr Tongai Muzenda dismissed claims of child labour being peddled by Washington.

“We are also surprised by the allegations that there could be forced labour in Chiadzwa. One would have thought that ordinarily Zimbabweans are looking for jobs, therefore where would the ‘forced’ aspect be coming from?” said Mr Muzenda.

Former Mines and Mining Development Minister Dr Obert Mpofu said the US decision to block Zimbabwean diamonds under the false pretext that they were produced through forced labour was meant to manipulate the prices of the gems so that Harare failed to get commensurate value to its minerals.

Dr Mpofu fought protracted battles during his tenure as Minister of Mines and Mining Development with the country’s detractors who sought to have Zimbabwe’s diamonds blacklisted so that it could not sell its diamonds through the KPCS.

“America has a long history of undermining Zimbabwe’s diamond sector,” he said.

“It’s unfounded and uncalled for. They are lies meant to tarnish the image of the country so that the country will not realise the actual value of its precious stones” said Dr Mpofu.

He said civil society always opposed Zimbabwe is a compliant to the world diamond market.

He added that the USA is working with some civil society organisations to classify Zimbabwe’s gemstones as conflict diamonds in order to prevent their sale on the formal market.

Dr Mpofu noted that big powers such as the USA wanted to intimidate other countries so that they did not benefit from their mineral resources.

“The USA never send teams to Zimbabwe to monitor the production of diamonds in the country. We have some committees who monitors the production of diamonds in the country to make sure we meet with the required standards. The US embassy rely solely on false reports from civic society,” said Dr Mpofu.

On Tuesday, the US Embassy Harare sent a seemingly celebratory tweet yesterday saying: “US Customs & Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order for artisanal rough cut diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields on Oct. 1, 2019 due to evidence of forced labour. US law prohibits importation of goods made with forced labour.”

Interestingly, even Zimbabwe’s Center for Natural Resource Governance, which usually fights with Government, said it had not received reports of systematic forced labour.

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