We Need a Soul

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

After more than 4 years of manning the US State Department conflict diamond desk, Brad Brooks-Robin stepped down and was interviewed by JCK magazine. Apart from appreciating the very honest answers Brooks-Robin gave, I was left with some questions that I could not find answers to.

 

Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, established ten years ago, is a structure set up to ensure that diamonds sold internationally do not finance wars or other conflicts. Countries subscribing to the Kimberley Process must put in place regulations requiring diamond dealers to buy diamonds only from known sources. Brooks-Robin considers the scheme to be effective, but believes it does not cover all aspects. Its lack of comprehensiveness was the reason the NGO Global Witness decided to leave the Kimberley Process.

 

However, the interview fails to address the most fundamental question. Is there any evidence that diamonds finance wars or other conflicts? Was there a raison d’etre for such a huge bureaucratic mechanism to start with? Everyone was mobilized for the scheme – the US government and Senate, the European Union, the Security Council of the UN and even Hollywood. Everyone went forward to protect the market from an evil that never existed.

 

Well, I would not say that it never existed. When the UNITA wanted to finance its war against the government, they sold diamonds on the open market, but that was a different story. Financing a body the size of UNITA means that they had to sell a lot of diamonds. Actually, the size of the smallest parcel they sold was over $1 million and the goods were openly traded. It would have been quite easy to stop such a trade, had those who were interested been willing to do so; however it seems they were not since they used the money to sell arms, which have the nasty nature of killing and maiming people.

 

The reasons behind creating this huge scheme were in reality different, but that is another story. Ten years later we now have a mechanism that works smoothly, though aimlessly, and everyone is happy. We have a car with an excellent motor but without a gearbox allowing us to drive it to our destination. We have a set of rules that is followed to the letter of the law, but no one cares whether they achieve anything at all.

 

The rules on the regulation of the Kimberley Process were doomed to be unsuitable for the needs of the diamond industry to start with. After all, how can rules dictated by someone who does not even know the industry — its strengths and weaknesses, its ethical code and its motivators — dictate rules? Listen to what Brooks-Robin says:

 

“I don’t understand why KP meetings don’t have a session on the state of the industry. There are too many diplomats and bureaucrats who come into the KP and know zero about the industry. […] There are too many people who come into the industry like me and don’t know anything about it, and KP meetings don’t give you much of an opportunity to learn about it.”

 

Well, this is hardly news. In early 2000, based on advice from Bain and Co. consulting firm, De Beers decided that the industry needs brands. Nobody really knew what brands meant or how to create them or whether diamonds can be branded at all. Brand was in the air and as De Beers said, we don’t know what this drive means either or how it will revive the industry, but we will learn together with you. According to Varda Shein, the general manager of the Diamond Trading Company – the marketing arm of De beers – about $5 billion in cash went up in smoke without selling one single diamond.

 

How well did Bain and Co. know the industry? These consulting firms have tools for analyzing corporations, however when dealing with an industry that is exclusively entrepreneurial, one needs different tools and rules, that are not taught in business school. I personally witnessed this when I was in business school, when I realized that I need a very healthy measure of creativity and commitment to apply what I learned to my business. At least if there is a positive lesson to learn from the branding fiasco, it is that the diamond industry is quite flexible and ready to adapt to any trend or move. Well, one cannot expect less from entrepreneurs.

 

The diamond industry is clinically dead. The mechanism works and its body is supported by life-support machines, but its soul – the personal responsibility for its actions – went away a long time ago. How long will it take before a true leader brings life back to this beautiful industry?

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