So far, in dealing with Zimbabwe’s shocking human rights violations, the approach of the Kimberley Process (KP) has been threefold: minimize Zimbabwe’s actions, slap the Zimbabwean government ever so lightly on the wrists, and then hope for the best. Now it appears that this wishful approach has backfired—and that the jewelry industry, running for cover, is becoming increasingly anxious about its association with the KP.
The jewelry industry’s latest cause for concern is the recent revelation that large numbers of diamonds may have been secretly exported—possibly by elements tied to the Zimbabwean government itself—from diamond fields in the Marange district of eastern Zimbabwe. Trouble in the Marange diamond fields began in 2008, when the Zimbabwean military seized control of the area and began using forced labor of adults and children, torture, beatings, killings, and rape to subdue the population and extract the mineral wealth. These actions should have been sufficient to get Zimbabwe suspended from the KP. Instead, the KP placed a temporary ban on the export of Marange diamonds and permitted Zimbabwe to continue selling non-Marange diamonds with the KP stamp of approval.
Since last fall, the Zimbabwean government has done little to inspire confidence that a new system has been put in place to ensure the ethical mining of Marange diamonds. In fact, as the KP readies to decide whether to lift the ban on Marange exports, there is mounting evidence that the ban was never really followed in the first place. A KP working group has recently confirmed that multiple shipments of rough diamonds were exported from Zimbabwe and imported into the United Arab Emirates between December 2009 and April 2010, according to the Jewelers of America, a trade group representing jewelry retailers in United States.
This violation of KP directives is forcing jewelry retailers to speak out more forcefully against the KP’s missteps. In a letter to the KP working group from Matt Runci, President of the Jewelers of America, Runci writes that it would be a mistake for the KP to permit diamond shipments from the Marange district to resume, given that so much smuggling has taken place. He further acknowledges that diamond smuggling from Marange “underscores the very fragile state of the Kimberley Process today.”
We hope that this letter from the Jewelers of America signals an important shift in strategy on the part of industry groups. Most retailers in the jewelry industry want consumers to believe that the diamond supply chain is ethical and conflict-free; their initial instinct, therefore, is to support the KP, minimize the KP’s deficiencies, and pretend that nothing is seriously wrong with KP oversight of the diamond trade. However, the jewelry industry may be starting to recognize that it cannot support the KP’s approach to Zimbabwe and still claim to provide an ethical product; that its reputation is being tarnished, along with KP’s; and that to avoid further embarrassment, it must begin to distance itself from the KP and adopt a more critical stance toward KP decisions.
Sadly, human rights violations of the sort perpetrated by the Zimbabwean government have not been enough to persuade the KP to tighten its regulation of the diamond trade. Industry pressure, we believe, is ultimately what will be necessary to set the KP on a different, more effective path. Although the jewelry industry is beginning to acknowledge the KP’s failures, we do not yet believe that the industry has been sufficiently full-throated in its critique. Noticeably absent from Runci’s letter is any call to suspend Zimbabwe from the KP entirely. As the leading provider of ethical origin jewelry, Brilliant Earth therefore will continue to speak out for tough action against Zimbabwe and for meaningful KP reform.