The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced yesterday that it had detained a diamond shipment from Zimbabwe’s Marange mines, saying it had obtained information the gems had been produced using forced labour.
Zimbabwe government spokesman Nick Mangwana said the United States was either mischievous or ignorant.
“It’s unfortunate that the US authorities have been misinformed or misled to believe that Zimbabwe is mining diamonds through forced labour,” Mangwana said.
“As a government we have a very strong revulsion towards any form of slavery or servitude. To even suggest that Zimbabwe has some form of corporate forced labor is either mischievous or simply ignorant.”
US law bars the importation of goods made using forced labour, which includes production by convicts, slaves, children or forced labourers.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines forced labour as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily”.
In a statement from Washington, the CBP said it had issued five withhold release orders (WRO) – which allow the agency to detain imported goods – on Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds as well as garments from China, rubber gloves from Malaysia, gold from the DRC and Brazilian bone char.
Importers of the withheld goods have the option of sending them back or proving that the goods do not violate the CBP’s forced labour rule, the agency said.
“CBP’s issuing of these five withhold release orders shows that if we suspect a product is made using forced labour, we’ll take it off U.S shelves,” CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan said.
The action was based on information obtained and reviewed by the CBP, indicating that the products are produced, in whole or in part, using forced labour, the agency added.
According to the CBP website, the US does not need to prove that there has been forced labour to ban goods from entering the country. The agency can take such decisions when “information reasonably but not conclusively indicates” that merchandise was made from forced labour.
The Marange diamonds have struggled to shake off the dirty tag since government took control of the fields in 2008 after a military crack-down on thousands of artisanal diggers who had descended on the area two years prior.
Although government eventually managed to restore some order, securing Kimberley Process certification and mining the gems in several joint ventures with partners who include the Chinese, Zimbabwe has struggled to trade the precious stones freely, with the lucrative US market being particularly difficult to penetrate.
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