The Kimberley Process, the international certification scheme create to combat conflict diamonds, has been mired in controversy for more than a year now. The question that looms over the Kimberley Process is this: Should diamonds from Zimbabwe be certified as conflict free? A Kimberley Process meeting earlier this month was thought to have been the place where this question would finally be answered. Instead, the meeting adjourned without any resolution, once again demonstrating that the Kimberley Process is ill-equipped to handle the challenges that Zimbabwe poses.
The situation in Zimbabwe is extremely troubling. In 2008, the Zimbabwean military seized control of a massive, newly-discovered diamond deposit in the Marange district of eastern Zimbabwe, killing about 200 people in the process. The military then used forced labor of adults and children to mine for the diamonds, with the proceeds going to military leaders and political allies of President Robert Mugabe. Despite Zimbabwe’s horrific record, the Kimberley Process has been extremely reluctant to stop certifying Zimbabwean diamonds, which would have the effect of putting a halt to legal Zimbabwean diamond exports. After temporarily banning Marange diamond exports in November 2009, it allowed Zimbabwe to make two shipments of Marange diamonds this fall—even though human rights violations continue and smuggling and corruption are rampant. At its latest meeting, member countries were debating whether to lift the ban permanently.
What explains this tepid approach? Why doesn’t the Kimberley Process simply refuse to certify Zimbabwean diamonds until Zimbabwe can demonstrate the capability to mine for diamonds in a transparent and ethical way? (The Kimberley Process has enacted bans on a country’s diamond exports before; in fact, since 2005 it has banned exports from Côte d’Ivoire.) Throughout this long-running controversy, in addition to serving as advocates for meaningful measures against the Zimbabwean government, we have been close observers of what has unfolded. In our analysis, the Kimberley Process’s difficulties in Zimbabwe are really an outgrowth of structural weaknesses in the Kimberley Process itself. Three sets of problems in the design of the Kimberley Process prevent it from taking stronger action:
1.) Problems of Scope
The mission of the Kimberley Processes is defined too narrowly and too ambiguously. Created in 2002, the Kimberley Process was conceived of as a way to break the link between diamonds and violent civil wars in Africa. Under the Kimberley Process, “conflict diamonds” are “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” Although this definition may have sufficed at one time, it does not give the Kimberley Process a clear mandate to confront situations like the one in Zimbabwe. The definition does not account for state-sponsored violence; nor does it take into account human rights abuses, corruption, or environmental degradation. The Kimberley Process needs to broaden its definition of “conflict diamond” to include at least all types of violence related to diamond mining.
2.) Problems of Decision-Making
Kimberley Process decision-making is based on a “consensus” model, which in practice means that any participating country wields a veto power. In addressing the situation in Zimbabwe, the Kimberley Process has had trouble arriving at decisions, and the decisions it has made have been inadequate to the task. The Kimberley Process needs to move towards supermajority or majority voting.
3.) Problems of Enforcement
The Kimberley Process is easily circumvented by smuggling. Kimberley Process decision-makers fear that if they ban Zimbabwean diamond exports, Zimbabwe will go ahead and sell its vast supply of diamonds on the black market. Many of these diamonds will then work their way into the “legitimate” supply chain, confronting the Kimberley Process with a serious enforcement problem—and casting doubt on dubious industry claims that the problem of conflict diamonds is close to being solved. Smuggling is difficult to combat, but the Kimberley Process would be better able to handle Zimbabwe-type situations if it could be more confident in its enforcement capabilities. Independent third party monitoring would be a good place to start.
At Brilliant Earth, we not only believe that diamond mining can be made much more ethical and transparent, we know that it can: our own jewelry is conflict free and sourced from mines adhering to the highest labor and environmental standards. Although we cannot expect the Kimberley Process to ensure that every piece of diamond jewelry is impeccably-sourced, we think that it should at least be eliminating the very worst abuses. However, without fundamental reform, the Kimberley Process will always be acting with one hand tied behind its back—and it will even be causing harm by legitimizing diamonds mined in violent and corrupt settings. For this reason, we will continue to serve as one of the Kimberley Process’s toughest critics. By shedding light on the current state of the Kimberley Process, we can empower consumers to build momentum for the changes that are so urgently needed.