Looking back at 2011, we’d say that the biggest news story, at least insofar as efforts to reform the diamond industry, was the Kimberley Process’s wrongheaded decision on Zimbabwe. In November, the international diamond certification scheme decided to lift a ban on diamond exports from Zimbabwe’s blood-stained Marange diamond fields. But there is another news story worth highlighting, a story whose long-term impacts could be just as significant: last month’s decision by Global Witness to withdraw from the Kimberley Process, in protest.
Global Witness helped found the Kimberley Process back in 2003. The same year, the group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its pioneering work on conflict diamonds. So a sad milestone was reached in December when Global Witness decided it had had enough. In the wake of the Kimberley Process decision on Zimbabwean diamonds, the group announced that it would no longer continue as a Kimberley Process participant and advisor. Global Witness did not mince words. In a press release, Global Witness founding director Charmian Gooch labeled the Kimberley Process “an accomplice to diamond laundering” and called the certification scheme’s approach to Zimbabwe “an outrage.”
Global Witness’s decision has sent shock waves throughout the jewelry industry, while earning considerable press attention. Most coverage to date has focused on the consequences for the Kimberley Process itself – specifically, whether the Kimberley Process is coming apart at the seams. The participation of civil society organizations like Global Witness is crucial to the Kimberley Process’s credibility. (Without civil society groups, the Kimberley Process would be composed of only national governments and industry.) Farai Maguwu, a Zimbabwean human rights advocate, explained the impact of Global Witness’s withdrawal to The New York Times. “The Kimberley Process will never be the same,” said Maguwu, whose organization works closely with Brilliant Earth. “A very influential member of the Kimberley Process has cast a vote of no confidence.”
The Kimberley Process has been weakened, perhaps irreparably. But the consequences for the Kimberley Process are less important to us than the consequences for diamond industry reform efforts, as a whole. Evaluated in this light, we think that Global Witness’s withdrawal, on balance, is actually good news. The Kimberley Process has long been weak and ineffectual. With its latest decision to certify Zimbabwean diamonds as “conflict free,” the Kimberley Process may even be doing harm. Working from outside the Kimberley Process, rather trying to fight a hopeless battle within it, Global Witness may gain the freedom it needs to redirect its energies, experiment with new strategies, and have more impact.
We’re especially encouraged by the hints Global Witness has been giving about its future direction – which may place an enhanced emphasis on holding the diamond industry accountable. “Consumers have a right to know what they’re buying, and what was done to obtain it,” stated Gooch, in the press release. “The diamond industry must finally take responsibility for its supply chains and prove that the stones it sells are clean.” Annie Dunnebacke, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, echoed these sentiments. “The industry taking responsibility and acting on cleaning up the diamond supply chain is really essential here,” she told The New York Times. “They’ve just been saying, ‘We have the Kimberley Process for diamonds, so that’s that — we’ve solved the problem of blood diamonds.’”
We couldn’t have said it better, and we couldn’t agree more. In fact, our recent blog series on the “1% myth” – the misleading notion that conflict diamonds make up less than one percent of the diamond supply – makes some of the same arguments: that the diamond industry isn’t taking responsibility, and that the industry relies on the Kimberley Process to lull consumers into believing that the conflict diamond problem is solved. Furthermore, we’re supportive of any and all efforts to hold the diamond industry accountable. At Brilliant Earth we’re trying to do exactly that – in our case, by educating consumers, by demonstrating that it’s possible for jewelers to provide an ethical product, and by using markets to incentivize change. As Global Witness enters a new era, we’re excited by how closely our visions align.