I went to Brisbane, Australia last month to attend the annual meeting of the Kimberley Process (KP), the international certification scheme for diamonds.
My purpose was to observe specific sessions regarding new blockchain technology as well as engage many of our critical partners in the industry. But more specifically, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of where the KP stands today and what its future holds. As a big believer in working within systems to see their continuous improvement, I was hopeful to see a way forward and how I could contribute.
But after three days of panels and speeches, I came away with little confidence that the KP will be the driver of an ethical diamond trade in 2018… or 2019… or perhaps not even in 2020. In short, the KP has not adapted its mandate since 2003 to reflect the social and environmental impacts that our customers care about. On its current trajectory, the KP will be less and less relevant to the modern customer, and the diamond industry will fall further behind current responsible sourcing practices across non-diamond industries. The lack of continual improvement on responsible sourcing practices will continue to be concerning to millennial customers, who will increasingly seek alternatives if consumer confidence declines.
When the KP was launched as a certification system in January 2003, it was considered innovative and forward-thinking. The KP’s designers adopted the then-ambitious goal of eliminating conflict diamonds from the global supply chain. To accomplish this goal, they enlisted governments from most of the countries where diamonds are mined, manufactured, and consumed.
Though it is not a treaty-based system, governments in the KP committed to adopting and implementing laws regulating their diamond trades and certifying their rough diamond exports. Civil society groups and diamond industry representatives joined as observers, providing the KP with a diverse range of expertise and voices.
Fifteen years later, customer and stakeholder expectations of the KP have not been fulfilled. The KP’s definition of eliminating conflict diamonds (defined as rough diamonds used to finance rebel militias) is too narrow to deal with the full range of ethical challenges facing the diamond trade in 2018. Although the KP was supposed to help prevent the international sale of illicit diamonds, because they would be traded outside the formal and legally-mandated system, KP countries either have been unwilling or unable to stop diamond smuggling. Violence by governments and private security firms, corruption, child labor, gender-based violence, environmental degradation, worker and community exploitation in the mining areas, illicit financing and other issues associated with the diamond trade are all considered to be outside the KP’s mandate.
At Brilliant Earth, we thought that part of the problem was that there was a split in the KP between governments that want to expand its mission and those opposed to reform. So when I traveled to Australia to attend the plenary session in December, I was curious about whether I would encounter an animated discussion about whether the current scope of the KP adequately addressed issues facing the diamond industry in 2018. Unfortunately, I saw little sign of it.
The plenary was held in a large convention hall with all the trappings of a professional, government-led event including the rows of tables, mints, and headsets for simultaneous interpretation for the audience. Based on interviews subsequent to this event, I was informed that while the KP working group meetings provide opportunities for debate on critical issues, the debates that do occur hover around the interpretation and application of the current KP model and end in word-smithing the final communiques to avoid any questions to that model. Instead, that much needed spirited debate about the KP’s future has been occurring in the diamond industry press.
During the official proceedings, as can be read in the published notes from the meeting, no reform to the mandate was placed on the table or seriously considered. This is particularly disappointing given that the KP launched a formal review cycle in 2017 offering an opportunity for advancing a reform agenda. Yet after 12 months, the culmination of that review was the establishment of an Ad-Hoc Committee on Review and Reform to be chaired by India and co-chaired by Angola. So, the year of review resulted in the formation of another committee being responsible for that review of reform agenda? This lack of progress should not be a surprise given the official proceedings announced that a professional secretariat was being approved in December 2017—a secretariat that has (sort of) been in place for 5 years and on the table for many more.
Perhaps the most exciting and telling outcome of the plenary was the announcement by IMPACT, a participating civil society group and co-founder of the KP, that it would withdrawal from the KP. In withdrawing from the KP, IMPACT cited the deterioration of a space for respectful engagement with civil society and frustration with lack of reform. IMPACT’s withdrawal further demonstrates that others at the plenary session were reaching the same conclusion: If broader change is to happen in the diamond trade in the near future, the KP will not be the driver of it; it is time to focus resources elsewhere.
The good news is that those who care about building a more transparent and responsible diamond trade are not waiting for the KP to wake from its slumber. For me, the most encouraging part of the plenary was the chance to have side conversations with those government officials and industry leaders who are eager to go beyond the KP’s mandate. They will continue to do their part to support the efforts by civil society representatives from African producer countries and European and US countries to improve the lives and communities connected to diamond mining, manufacturing, and trade. Together, we may be able to implement new technologies to improve transparency and traceability in the diamond supply chain. By engaging in parallel to the KP, we can support and launch projects to improve conditions in artisanal and small-scale diamond mining.
So what will happen to the KP? Either it will continue as is and eventually fizzle into purely a paperwork exercise, or some outside development or change in circumstances will provide the political support for those in the KP to force the KP to evolve. Maybe IMPACT’s withdrawal, the increase of non-KP due diligence efforts, or even the threat from changing consumer behavior, will be the wake-up call that the KP needs to address increasing consumer expectations about traceability and responsibility. With the European Union and India, two of the most active diamond trading and manufacturing centers, leading the KP over the next two years, we hope they will be able to take this opportunity to heed that call and push for real change. We will support their efforts in and out of the KP for real reform to meet increasing customer expectations and our own expectations for good ethical business.
Whatever that impetus is, I hope that someday, the KP can restructure and again move to the front of the movement to build an ethical diamond supply chain. In the meantime, companies like ours will continue to push in our own direction toward more ethical and responsible sourcing practices.
Carrie George is Brilliant Earth’s Director of Responsible Sourcing. This blog is based on her general impressions of the plenary and on information that became public after the meeting. Statements made maintain the confidentiality asked of KP guests.