BY Alfonce Mbizwo/TATIRA ZWINOIRA
State-owned Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC) has denied that it uses child labour in its mining operations.
In October 2019, the United States barred the trading of rough diamonds from Zimbabwe, accusing the country of using forced labour at its diamond fields in Marange, in the eastern part of the country.
“There has been a lot of speculation in the media. I mean the one which really brought me to tears is that we use child labour and some journalists wrote this in the media last year,” ZCDC acting chief executive officer Roberto De Pretto told editors during a tour of Chiadzwa mine in Marange, yesterday.
“All I could do was laugh because first of all the legislation in the country prohibits slave labour which was abolished way back in the 18th century. So, we are really looking at balance and factual reporting from all of you and we are opening our house today.”
The Forced Labour Division within the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office received information that the diamonds were produced from forced labour, leading to the CBP issuing a withhold release order (WRO).
ZCDC was formed in 2016 after government in February of that year cancelled mining licences for seven miners operating in the area.
However, one of the miners, the Chinese-owned Anjin, has since made a return to the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
De Pretto said ZCDC is targeting to produce 3,2 million carats this year, from 1,6 million carats in 2019 which was the lowest in the miner’s history.
It produced 1,8 million carats in 2017 and 2,8 million carats in 2018.
In e-mailed responses to NewsDay, a CBP spokesperson said the US Customs and Border Protection was bound by Trade Secrets Act and that they were not able to reveal specific details about companies involved, leading to the WRO.
“We can say that there have not been any diamonds from this area imported into the United States since 2015. When investigating allegations of forced labour, CBP reviews all available information. This information can include non-public materials, such as allegations submitted through our online reporting tools by civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, businesses and industry associations, or others,” the spokesperson said.
“CBP also reviews public facing materials, such as news reporting, published research and governmental reporting. When CBP determines that the information reasonably, but not conclusively, indicates that merchandise within the purview of 19 USC § 1307 is being, or is likely to be, imported into the United States, CBP will issue a withhold release order (WRO) on that class of merchandise.”
The spokesperson added: “As our regulations make clear, a WRO is not a ban. Rather, a WRO allows importers an opportunity to re-export their goods or to provide evidence that their goods are not produced with forced labour.”
Reports that diamonds from the Marange diamond fields, in particular, was coming from forced labour first emerged from Human Rights Watch (HRW) in April 2018.
HRW documented how Zimbabwe’s armed forces had coerced children and adults into carrying out forced labour, tortured and harassed local villagers when they seized control of the diamond fields.
The human rights body also alleged that armed forces personnel also killed in late October 2008 more than 200 people in Chiadzwa, a previously peaceful, but impoverished part of Marange.