The Kimberley Process will end its virtual plenary today, and it looks like that will follow an all-too-familiar pattern.
The attending nongovernmental organizations—formally known as the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC)—will issue a statement lamenting, once again, that the KP has lost a chance to prove its relevancy in the new era. The World Diamond Council will also issue a statement, expressing some of the same sentiments, in far gentler terms, but also stressing the certification scheme’s importance and success. It will again call for the KP’s conflict diamond definition to be broadened, even though that proposal appears perpetually stalled.
The attending governments will pass a year-end KP-supporting resolution in the United Nations, which has largely disengaged from diamond issues, having bigger fish to fry, including a possibly frying planet.
All of which raises the question: If no one is all that excited about the KP, why have it all? Years back, participants boasted of a congenial “family.” Now, meetings have grown contentious. “I left,” one participant said, when I asked what was happening. “They are still arguing.”
It’s especially painful to watch the KP struggle to control the flow of diamonds from the Central African Republic (CAR)—the one country that still produces conflict diamonds under the KP’s official definition. As the saying goes, that’s its one job, and it’s failing at it.
Some have suggested that the KP needs to be slimmed down. Right now, it covers every rough diamond in the world. One could argue it’s a waste of resources to certify diamonds from, say, Canada, and perhaps it would be better to have a narrower scheme laser-focused on CAR, the one universally agreed-on problem area. Or perhaps just let it run as a regular import and export system, like CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).
And yet, despite all its issues, the KP will likely stay as it is. First, it’s not hurting anyone, it increases transparency in the industry, and it brings order to a once-largely unregulated business.
It’s also true that “traditional definition” conflict diamonds were once a huge problem, tearing three countries apart. Conflict diamonds haven’t gone away completely, but they are far less of an issue. That may or may not be due to the KP. We’ll never know—but it probably didn’t hurt.
The main argument for dismantling the KP is that the industry uses it to “green-wash” mined diamonds, when it still has serious issues in its supply chain. Whether or not one agrees, that is not enough reason to destroy a pretty extensive worldwide certification scheme. Jewelers will simply find another way to handle customer concerns, especially with more tracking systems coming on the market. Anyone who Googles the KP can see it has issues.
Plus, there’s a reason some NGOs are sticking with it, even after its two founding NGOs, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada (now Impact), left in widely publicized huffs. And it might not be obvious to U.S. readers; it wasn’t to me.
In a few countries where these NGOs operate, freedom of speech is not—to put it mildly—a widely respected right, as evidenced by the arrest of protestors outside the Anjin mine in Marange, Zimbabwe. Some African activists in the KPCSC regularly put their lives on the line.
The KP’s tripartite process lets them speak their mind to their governments and industry in a relatively safe space.
“One can view it as a good platform for ideas to be exchanged,” says Shamiso Mtisi, coordinator for the KPCSC and deputy director of the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association. “Some of these [officials], they don’t listen to the outside world, they don’t even read the newspapers. You can scream outside the formal systems all you want, but they won’t listen. This allows civil society to talk with them and present facts. You can press the person who is involved.”
He adds: “This does not in any way mean the KP is perfect. It is a system that is broken. But for the sake of presenting our issues, we stay.”
In addition, some NGOs get government funding in part because they participate in the KP, which has the United Nations’ blessing; there’s apparently less demand for freelance gadflies. (It’s also worth noting that while they are generally united in their public statements, the members of the KPCSC don’t always agree with each other; someone from Botswana may not view diamonds the same way someone from Zimbabwe does.)
As for the other legs of the KP “stool,” the United States and its allies often share the standard doubts about the KP but want to encourage the multi-stakeholder model of industry, NGOs, and governments working together. The KP serves the industry’s interest too, not just as a PR ploy, but it lets it avoid dealing with a patchwork of regulations from different countries, as is happening now with conflict minerals. If the KP fell apart, the industry would not only get a huge PR black eye but also would likely have to develop a new, more effective system from scratch. It’s not clear what that would be. It could take a lot of time—and possibly involve (again) passing legislation in more than 80 countries. As one KP vet tells me, “It’s standard government inertia. Things that are in place, tend to stay.”
The diamond industry has been so besieged by the conflict diamond issue that it’s focused most of its energy on that, at the expense of other important problems it needs to address. Only lately has there been a growing awareness of the need to tackle remaining deficiencies in the supply chain, in response to greater consumer awareness and, probably, the challenge of lab-grown.
The Kimberley Process has its place, but it’s important to understand that it won’t—and can’t—cure all the ills in the diamond sector. The industry must do that itself.
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