Late last year, we engaged in a spirited online debate with the World Diamond Council (WDC), the organization representing the global diamond industry. In a series of blogs, we argued that the diamond industry defined “conflict diamond” in a way that was too narrow and self serving. After reading our blog, the diamond industry issued Brilliant Earth a formal written response. The industry defended the narrow “conflict diamond” definition it was using as well as its highly misleading statistical claim, based on that definition, that the diamond supply is more than 99% conflict- free.
What a difference a half-year makes. Since our debate last December, the diamond industry has not only reversed its position to align more closely with our own; it recently decided to back a proposal to expand the very definition of “conflict diamond” it once supported – the definition used by the Kimberley Process, the troubled international diamond certification scheme.
As we discussed in our blog series, the only diamonds that count as “conflict diamonds” under the Kimberley Process are diamonds that fund rebel movements in war-torn countries. Unfortunately, this definition doesn’t account for most of the violence and human rights problems facing diamond mining today – including governments that kill, torture, and rape in support of diamond mining.
The diamond industry didn’t invent the Kimberley Process’s “conflict diamond” definition, but it has long supported the definition and taken advantage of it. In recent years, as diamond-related violence has festered in countries such as Angola and Zimbabwe, the diamond industry has continued to claim that the diamond supply is more than 99% conflict-free – because technically, governments, not rebels, are responsible for the bloodshed in these countries. Essentially, the diamond industry has told the public that the conflict diamond problem has been nearly solved – when in fact the problem has only been defined out of existence.
But now, it seems, the diamond industry has decided to take a more straightforward approach. Countries belonging to the Kimberley Process met in Washington, D.C. last week to try to make progress in the fight against conflict diamonds. Top on the agenda was a proposal by the United States to expand the definition of “conflict diamond” beyond its current narrow scope. (One proposal is to define “conflict diamonds” as “rough diamonds used to finance or otherwise directly relate to arm conflict or other situations of violence.”) And supporting that expansion, we’re excited to say, was the diamond industry, as represented by the WDC.
What persuaded the diamond industry to reverse its position? Every year, a different country is chosen to lead the Kimberley Process. This year the United States holds the leadership baton and has selected an experienced career diplomat, Gillian Milovanovic, to act as Chair. Because Milovanovic and the U.S. government support an expanded “conflict diamond” definition, we suspect that she has been working skillfully behind the scenes to win diamond industry support for a definition change. The diamond industry may have found her persuasive or decided that it did not want to be in the uncomfortable position of opposing the United States.
But we also suspect that the diamond industry is coming to the realization that, over the long term, the best way to keep diamonds popular with consumers is to truly end all diamond-related violence – and not just rely on misleading statistical claims. We hope that in our own way, through our debate with the WDC, we helped persuade the diamond industry that it was time to abandon the Kimberley Process’s outdated definition.
So far, the diamond industry hasn’t altered its misleading statistical claims on its marketing web site diamondfacts.org. But given that the industry now believes that “conflict diamond” should be defined to include all diamond-related violence in diamond mining countries, we fully expect that the WDC will soon adjust its statistics accordingly.
As for the Kimberley Process, if and when it adopts a broader definition of “conflict diamond” it will have a surer mandate to stop the export of diamonds tainted by bloodshed. Last week’s Kimberley Process meeting ended without any decisions. But now that the infuential diamond industry is on board with a definition expansion, an official definition change is at least within the realm of possibilities. And for the first time in a while, we’re a bit more hopeful that the Kimberley Process can evolve into a credible mechanism for stopping conflict diamonds.