Kimberley Process Chair: “I Don’t Know” If Reforms Will Pass

Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic, current chair of the Kimberley Process, once again took time to speak with JCK today, and charted the current state of the reform agenda for the certification scheme:

What was your reaction to the article in Time this week about the Kimberley Process and Venezuela?  

My principal thought is that is an issue that is being worked on by the participation committees. It is not as though no one was paying any attention. We are trying to figure out what is the appropriate course of attention to get Venezuela to respond. 

The second thing is, there persists a lack of understanding, despite our best efforts, into what the KP is and what it isn’t. While I understand the frustrations, there are specific things that the Kimberley Process has a mandate to do, and, rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t include child labor, or other labor issues that were addressed in that article. I don’t think it is appropriate to believe the KP will handle all of that. We weren’t mandated for it.

What is the current status of Venezuela within the Kimberley Process?

My understanding is that Venezuela self-selected out, because it wasn’t going to be conforming to the requirements. It didn’t literally leave the organization but it also announced in advance, I believe it was four years ago, that it wasn’t going to be a participant, with the understanding that it couldn’t issue KP certificates. That has been the situation until this year, when I was presented with the recommendation that there be an additional attempt to get Venezuela to return to active participation. Venezuela did give some information that was found to be inadequate. A further letter was sent to them upon the recommendation of the committee.

Overall, though it can be frustrating to see how long some of these things take, it is not necessarily bad to take the approach that you will try to work with people to see if there is any assistance you can give. We will see at the time of the Plenary what becomes of the recommendation of the participation committee.

What is the status of the big issue right now, enlarging the definition of conflict diamonds to include incidents of violence?

Until now, we have tried to restore decent relations within the KP, getting people to be willing to talk to one another. I think it remains a fragile situation, there is a lot to overcome what has gone on in the past. Obviously what has to be seen is what this quasi-era of good feeling is going to result in, and can this be converted into a willingness to make decisions. You wrote that recently, and you were right. It may also be that the decisions into certain things aren’t ready for prime time yet.

With respect to this definition, people have scared each other over what it might mean, instead of getting to the point where we actually discuss what is being proposed.

With all that as background, I don’t know. The actual formal proposal is due on the 28th of August. It is premature to say what kind of chance something has of passage. The chances are reasonably good we can have a serious discussion of what has been put forward. What matters is that some proposal is out there and then discussion can begin.

Who will determine what constitutes violence under the new definition? 

Even I have not seen the final proposal. I think what is important is that, rather than having an immediate reaction that I don’t like this, we talk about it how can it be amended, how can it be changed. 

One of the most challenging aspects of this is that it will not require there be action at the United Nations. It would require some decision from the Kimberley Process itself. One of the things that we will look at is how other organizations handle this, and possibly using outside organizations that are said to be independent but have a way of assessing conflict. They base their own recommendation on an objective source. There are a couple of different ideas. It is unlikely to be something that would require consensus, but there could have to be some form of voting that would have to take place.

Do you think next year’s chair, South Africa, is committed to the reform agenda?

If you look at every statement that Minister Shabangu has made, it has been extremely supportive. I think you will find that South Africa is supportive of reform. It is a very pragmatic issue for them, they want to make the best use for their resources.

What is happening with the administrative function?

We do have a number of candidates. What matters is that we actually move forward and agree something should be put in place. We are still in the hypothetical debate stage and we need to get out of that.

What is the biggest misconception about the Kimberley Process? 

I think it all goes back to, what we talked about earlier, while there is a laudable concern for the welfare of other human beings, the KP cannot be all things to all people. And we still have a job to do to explain what we are here for.

The SEC is voting today on “conflict minerals” rules. What can the diamond industry learn from that?

There is always the possibly that something along the lines of the conflict minerals legislation could apply to diamonds. More than anything else, the members of the Kimberley Process should be taking away from the SEC stuff that there is momentum for better assurances for consumers.

Anything those concerned with “conflict minerals” can learn from the Kimberley Process? 

The Kimberley Process is and continues to be a voluntary effort. At the end of the day, I think voluntary efforts are always better, because when you have voluntary efforts, you have better results. The positive and constructive way things have historically been done within the KP is a lesson that could be applied to conflict minerals.

Any final message you want to give to JCK’s readers, particularly those that support reform efforts?

Just that the industry can play a role here. In so many countries, the position that is taken by the government is guided by the point of view of the industry. Industry should not under-estimate the role it has, and be conscious that it can appropriately inform and involve those who vote in the Kimberley Process and explain why reform is needed. That is a critical role that industry can play. They are admirably placed to explain this. Because that is something that people in business do all the time, they harness change and mitigate risk.

I would hope those that are supportive of reform will get out there and talk to their colleagues in other parts of the industry about why this is important to them. I understand that people are concerned about change—whether it’s a question of their livelihood, or tens of thousands of jobs in their countries. But I hope people will begin to talk to their colleagues seriously colleague-to-colleague. I think we need industry-to-industry dialogue, whether it’s on a collective or individual basis.

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JCK News Director