US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has blocked the import of rough diamonds mined from the Marange fields in Zimbabwe, claiming they were produced using forced labor.
“CBP is firmly committed to identifying and preventing products made with the use of forced labor from entering the stream of US commerce,” Brenda Smith, executive assistant commissioner of the CBP office of trade, said on Tuesday. “Our agency works tirelessly behind the scenes to investigate and gather information on forced labor in global supply chains.”
The CBP based the September 30 ban on evidence it reviewed and investigated after obtaining information from various sources, including news reports, tips from the public and the trade community, or through its own investigative methods.
“CBP works extensively with our stakeholders, the media and private-sector businesses to gather information on forced labor in global supply chains and educate importers on US compliance standards,” explained Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner at the CBP office of field operations. Under US law, it is illegal to import goods into the country that are made either wholly, or in part, by forced labor, CBP explained.
Zimbabwe has been a source of contention for the US since 2008, after state security forces killed nearly 200 citizens in an effort to clamp down on informal mining, resulting in its removal from the Kimberley Process (KP). While the KP reinstated Zimbabwe in 2011, US sanctions imposed on diamonds from the country remain in place.
While the existing sanctions already prohibit the import of Zimbabwe diamonds to the US, industry experts believe the latest move is an attempt to reinforce the ban.
“I think they just want to put extra pressure, as there have been NGOs reporting on forced labor in Marange,” said Peter Meeus, government advisor on the diamond trade for the Central African Republic (CAR), and advisor to the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB). “As such, diamonds from Marange fall under the [Office of Foreign Assets Control] ban, so now there is a second reason not to allow them.”
Zimbabwe denied the US government’s claims in a response to media outlet Bloomberg, calling them “misinformed” and “misled” and stating it had a “strong revulsion towards any form of slavery or servitude.”
CBP also issued four other prohibitions, including against gold from artisanal small mines in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Image: The Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe. (Rapaport News)