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How De Beers is Developing the Value Chain from ‘Mine to Finger’

Diamond group De Beers may be well known for its tagline, “A Diamond Is Forever,” but it is also focused on developing long-lasting social impact.

The company’s “Building Forever” strategy is centered on improving the quality of life in mining communities both while its mines are active and after. During a conversation with Sourcing Journal features editor Kate Nishimura at the Fairchild Media Group Sustainability Summit on April 22, Pat Dambe, vice president, market outreach, natural diamonds at De Beers Group, delved into the company’s social and environmental sustainability initiatives.

De Beers participated in the creation of the Kimberley Process in 2003, which saw governments and the private sector come together to establish responsible sourcing frameworks to combat conflict diamonds. A growing number of nations have joined the certification scheme in the almost two decades since. Explaining the idea behind the joint effort, Dambe said, “One conflict diamond affects all of us.”

Within its own supply chain, Dambe says De Beers goes further than Kimberley standards, partnering with local governments to realize country-wide results. “Uplifting lives doesn’t mean social investments. It means really looking at ways that we can make a difference and perhaps impart technology, new skills, new opportunities, diversification,” Dambe said. “So, provenance for us is not just about the ethical practice; provenance is about growth, it’s about ensuring that we’re building something over and beyond our value chain.”

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Countering potential preconceived images of mining towns, Dambe painted a picture of De Beers’ communities. In Botswana, it’s “aspirational” to live in a mining town. Residents—from miners to executives—have a middle-class lifestyle. And more than 95 percent of mine management is local. The company also establishes hospitals and schools for the community, allowing members of the nearby villages to also benefit from education and health services. When Covid-19 hit, De Beers took a proactive role, donating PCR machines for testing and studying the impact of the virus in and around its mining communities.

FMG Sustainability Summit De Beers
From left, Kate Nishimura with Pat Dambe Sourcing Journal

Another of De Beers’ social impact focuses is gender diversity. Women hold significant leadership roles in the mines, including in engineering and technology positions. Looking at the next generation, the group plans to engage 10,000 girls in STEM subjects by 2030.

To promote entrepreneurship and economic diversity, De Beers is subsidizing a multi-year program with the Stanford Graduate School of Business that targets both budding and established business owners in Southern Africa.

While social responsibility is a priority for De Beers, the company is also considering its environmental impact. By 2030, the group plans to be carbon neutral.

To protect biodiversity, De Beers established a 140,000-hectare reserve. This sanctuary protects endangered species such as white and black rhinoceroses, while also providing for the local community by driving tourism.

Since water is scarce around the mines, De Beers has been focused on water efficiency since these sites opened. A project at the Orapa mine is working to filter salt water into fresh drinking water.

Along with taking action, De Beers sees the importance of measuring its impact. “A lot of those measurements are done independently of ourselves, so that there’s an objective position and perspective on what we’re doing,” Dambe said.

As consumers become more aware about the impact of their purchases, De Beers is using traceability as a differentiator. A blockchain solution called Tracr creates a digital asset for each diamond, which then travels through the supply chain with the precious gem as it’s produced into a piece of jewelry. This enables De Beers and others to share the specific origin of diamonds and the impact of mining on communities.

“It’s not about what we say; it’s about what we do,” Dambe said. “What we try and do within our technology…is being able to trace from mine to finger and understanding the best practices and policies that are used across that value chain. That’s really important to a discerning consumer today.”