Q. Feriel Zerouki, tell us about your journey in the diamond industry, how you began and where you are now.
My journey in the diamond industry started 17 years ago as an analyst in De Beers and looking back I have had a wonderful journey. I fell in love with the product and the people sometimes quite literally! I met my wonderful husband, who gave me my beautiful daughter Noor named after the Koh-i-Noor Diamond. I have grown up in the industry and have been lucky to be supported by many in the trade who have taken the time to help me understand the workings of the value chain in a manner that has strongly contributed to my development throughout the years. Today I hold a few roles in the Industry, I am the Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at De Beers Group, the Vice President of the World Diamond Council and the Treasurer at the Responsible Jewellery Council. I hold these roles with one common purpose: to uphold the integrity of diamonds and protect those communities who rely on them in a responsible way.
Q. Can you please share your views on the empowerment of women in the diamond industry?
Many studies show that diversity drives stronger commercial performance, and given my background, I am a strong believer that accelerating equal opportunities leads to a better workforce for the future. In 2020, De Beers set a number of goals for 2030 which includes achieving equal opportunity, including gender parity, for employees across our workforce. In just a few years, there has been great progress on increasing representation of women in leadership, from 17 per cent in 2017 to 31 per cent by end of 2021 and great financial results to match it too!
In the wider industry, I’ve also noticed some positive movements, but I often find myself in the minority in many industry Boards. We need to be more intentional about diversity from a gender, race and other perspective. This will require more public commitments for some time, however I look forward to the day where this becomes business as usual, and not a target.
Q. The war in Ukraine has had a major impact on the diamond industry, especially on rough supply. How has it affected De Beers?
At De Beers Group we only recover diamonds from Botswana, Canada, Namibia and South Africa, so there has been no direct impact on our rough diamond supply. However, the sanctions that have been implemented as a consequence of the war – as well as concerns over how those sanctions could further escalate – have led to many US retailers seeking further assurance regarding the provenance of the diamonds they purchase. As a result, we have focused on delivering solutions that empower our Sightholders to provide provenance assurance to retailers for their De Beers-mined production. Overall, we have continued to see robust demand for De Beers rough diamonds in the first half of the year.
Q. What is the current policy of De Beers concerning rough supply and pricing?
Our policy is the same as ever – our supply and pricing decisions are based on the prevailing industry conditions. We take a long-term, sustainable view on our business, and we use a range of inputs to inform our approach with a focus on supplying in line with demand and pricing in a responsible manner.
Q. The World Diamond Council, of which you are currently Vice President and are slated to head as President in 2023, represents the diamond industry in the Kimberley Process. Are there changes that you would like to see made in the KP now or when you take over?
Absolutely, firstly I believe that the Kimberley Process is misunderstood. In my personal view, it has been highly effective in achieving its specific mandate in relation to conflict diamonds and continues to provide the baseline of trust and assurance in the diamond sector. The KP’s rigorous requirements for the import and export of rough diamonds over international borders also means that the System provides an important additional layer of protection against risks relating to money laundering – risks which persist in other sectors without such a mechanism. It is therefore important that we raise awareness of what the Kimberley Process is and what the certification Scheme involves in order to strengthen the understanding of many stakeholders, in the industry and beyond.
Having said this there is always room for improvement, and we have been advocating along with the Civil Society Coalition for an expanded conflict diamond definition in order to address the challenges of today and meet the expectations of the next generations to come. While the pace of progress has been frustrating, there has been some positive steps forward. The most recent one is the Declaration on Supporting Principles for Responsible Diamond Sourcing as Best Practices at the latest plenary which outlines a variety of principles, including labour and human rights. This would not have been possible without the WDC playing an important industry observer role.
It’s safe to say that while driving change from the inside is slow, driving change from outside the KP would be impossible. So I would like to see more industry members joining the WDC, and strengthening our ability to drive positive change.
Q. What are the challenges and opportunities facing world diamond industry? Looking forward, how will the industry fare during 2022?
Those that know me know that risk analysis is something that I feel comfortable leaning into! There are several issues of relevance to the diamond sector, and many of these could be either challenge or opportunity, depending on how the industry responds. These include provenance and traceability, as knowing where your product comes from helps companies understand their impact and ESG credentials so that they can develop initiatives that support their commercial targets whilst using their business to drive positive change in support of the Sustainable Development Goals. This ties in nicely with the opportunity of communicating our sustainability credentials, consumers need to see industry develop solutions that help address global challenges. This is also important when competing with other categories, especially as the opportunity for luxury travel and leisure increases after the reduction seen during the pandemic. Another is the growth of digital, harnessing data and unlocking the power of brands in the sector and engaging younger consumers. Last but not least is of course future supply.
We have addressed many of these topics in more detail in our Diamond Insight Reports, which I would encourage you to lookup.
In terms of how the industry will fare in 2022, much will depend on how things evolve in terms of global geopolitics, macroeconomics, and ongoing impacts from Covid-19. Each of these present risks to industry performance, but as we have seen last year and in the first half of 2022, the industry is very resilient and diamonds continue to have a strong desirability for people all over the world.
Q. Tell us about your interests/family and anything else you would like to add.
I’ve been blessed with strong values and an education instilled onto me by my parents that has enabled me to access opportunities in this wonderful industry. I think it’s important however for me to share how difficult it has been to maintain my career and ambition throughout the different milestones in my life. I would not have reached where I am without the support and strength of my husband who, despite his busy career, has been my backbone and my strength, and who made me believe that I am able to take the next step. I know many go through the same process. So for all of you out there, remember that you are not only a source of inspiration, but also a source of strength for your family and loved ones. So do your best with this responsibility and help someone have the courage to believe in themselves enough to take the next step