Black Panther: Wakanda Forever actor Lupita Nyong’o is one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. So it should come as no surprise she’s one of the most sought-after faces for brands worldwide. but Nyong’o is also known for her humanitarianismwhich is why her new ambassadorship with the controversial diamond company De Beers raises eyebrows.
De Beers’ history in the diamond industry
De Beers first came under scrutiny when lawsuits piled up in the late 1990s accusing the company of bad business practices that violated antitrust, unfair competition, and consumer-protection laws. The plaintiffs also claimed De Beers overpriced its diamonds to inflate the diamond industry and monopolize the market (via Tampa Bay Times).
De Beers settled the resulting class-action lawsuit for $272.5 million in 2012.
Around the same time, the UN Security Council began investigating the trade of “blood diamonds” (also known as “conflict diamonds”) throughout Africa. Defined by the United Nations as “any diamond that is mined in areas controlled by forces opposed to the legitimate, internationally recognized government of a country and that is sold to fund military action against that government,” blood diamonds ignited a global reckoning (via britannica).
Diamonds were mined in rebel-controlled countries, smuggled and sold on the legitimate market, and used to arm those same rebel forces.
When the council issued its findings, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd was implicated in the report.
‘Black Panther’ star Lupita Nyong’o knows firsthand about the political unrest and injustices in Africa
Black Panther’s Lupita Nyong’o was born in Mexico after her parents fled Kenya due to political unrest. Nyong’o’s father, a senator and political activist, told Vogue in 2016 about the events leading to his family’s “self-imposed exile.” He described his multiple detainments and interrogations, the family’s home being searched and ransacked, and Nyong’o’s brother Charles’ mysterious disappearance.
The family returned to Nairobi when Nyong’o was 3, and the actor resided there most of her young life despite her father’s continued persecution.
Although De Beers’ mines are located primarily in South Africa, and the countries within the Central African Republic (CAR) have grown most notorious for the trade of blood diamonds, the effect of diamond mining permeates the continent. Time reports intense poverty and incredibly inhumane working conditions in mines employing children.
In a 2014 United Nations report, an estimated 140,000 carats of diamonds were smuggled out of the CAR in a single year. Millions of dollars of revenue flow into the hands of rebels each year from blood diamonds that, in turn, fund more war and cost more civilian lives.
Is Lupita Nyong’o’s ambassadorship with De Beers truly ‘where it begins’?
Since De Beers gained notoriety in the early 2000s, it has become one of the few diamond companies offering jewelers transparency from source to sale, Time reports. (The brand boasts the tagline “where it begins” in its new campaign with Nyong’o.) That dramatically reduces the risk of the company’s jewels being conflict diamonds and provides today’s more ethically driven consumer assurances.
“We source most of the diamonds for our jewelry from our own mines in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Canada,” De Beers says on its website. “Our stringent sourcing procedures, selection processes, and certification requirements mean that the diamonds in every piece of De Beers jewelry are guaranteed to be ethically produced and 100% conflict-free.”
Considering that, Nyong’o’s ambassadorship seems justified if De Beers is working to make the diamond industry — an industry essential to Africa’s economy — more legitimate and humane.
It’s certainly what Nyong’o’s statement seems to convey on the De Beers website, where she mentions her “pride in knowing where [the diamonds] come from.” The Oscar-winning actor also says her new ambassadorship will allow her to “extend [her] advocacy for women and girls around the world,” presumably through De Beers’ “Building Forever” affiliations.
However, it all seems to rely on De Beers being the company it says it is, and its record isn’t great. Furthermore, one must wonder about Nyong’o’s affiliation of her with an industry that has ravaged one of her homelands of her (the actor has stated she considers herself from Mexico and Africa).
One also wonders if Nyong’o’s De Beers ambassador is as “transformative” as the company claims or if her new partnership hasn’t made her something of a blood diamond herself — dazzling, pure, powerful, and used to support conflict.