Edward Asscher, the fifth-generation diamantaire who heads the Royal Asscher Co. in the Netherlands, was elected president of the World Diamond Council last month. He is the first president to be voted in in the group’s history. In a candid interview, Asscher—who has served as past president of the Liberal Party in the Netherlands, and represented the party for four years in the Netherlands senate—speaks about how he wants to change the Kimberley Process and whether it’s possible to bring together a divided industry.
JCK: You laid out some frameworks to your approach in your speech to the KP. Can you elaborate on them?
Edward Asscher: We have a different approach than before. The KP is a mature organization. It has done some great work and saved a lot of lives. The biggest challenge is a level playing field. If not all the same centers use the same technological know-how, you will have false competition, and diamonds will go to the weakest point.
There are diamond offices without experts on valuation. Another center is said to have issued a Kimberley certificate with a suspected parcel from the Central African Republic. [Editor’s note: Those diamonds are banned by the KP.] If that is true, that is more than a weakness in the center.
Banks have been questioning whether the diamond industry is still bankable. What does that have to do with the WDC? If the diamond industry cannot finance its purchases of rough, the price of rough goes down, and that is detrimental to the African producing countries. The banks are demanding not only strict procedures in the KP but transparency, compliance, and auditing.
I have reached out to the NGOs and everyone who is critical of KP. In the past, some problems have been avoided in discussions. I can’t guarantee we will agree with everything, but we won’t duck any issues.
JCK: Will expanding the KP definition of conflict diamond to include diamonds produced under violent circumstances happen in the near future?
Asscher: The WDC has said that we favor expanding the definition. So far, three countries have blocked it. I’ll work for it, but this year it will be difficult. Next year, maybe.
JCK: You said in your speech that the KP should only focus on conflict diamonds. Can you elaborate on that?
Asscher: What I meant is, I don’t want to include colored stones. That is being handled by the Precious Stones Multi-Stakeholder Working Group [PSMSWG], which encompasses gold and precious stones. That is useful, but I think that group has the wrong approach.
JCK: Can you elaborate on why you think that group has the wrong approach?
Asscher: We have to build from the bottom up. The [PSMSWG] is very much dictated by governments and bigger companies.
JCK: How about goals of the group—increasing due diligence along the chain?
Asscher: That is very useful to do in the long run. But we have to give much more thought to how to organize it and how to do it. If it is just one-dimensional, you have seen the reaction of some of the colored-stone organizations. Whether you agree with those groups or not—and I don’t—like the KP, you have to involve them in any discussions.
JCK: What did you think of the Partnership Africa Canada report, which is critical of Dubai?
Asscher: I have read it with great interest. Some parts of it are highly subjective from the NGO point of view. I told [co-author] Alan Martin that we have to agree to disagree on some issues. We may have different thinking on issues like transfer pricing, but that is something the WDC needs to look into.
The WDC has not discussed the report, but it will be on the list of potential risks to the KP. We may decide it isn’t a risk. At the moment, I am withholding judgment.
JCK: The slate you headed was considered a more reform-minded, NGO-sympathetic group than the people you ran against. Do you think that is a fair characterization?
Asscher: I would formulate it differently. The WDC has changed. It has new bylaws and represents five sectors—the miners, the manufacturers, the traders, the retailers, and then some independents. If you look at the KP after 12, 13 years, it is a mature organization, and you have to look at blind spots and what is necessary to make the KP watertight. The basis of the KP and the WDC is to defend the integrity of the product. We have to make sure that all who work in this industry make a good living and have a good life. If you call that reformist, then I am a reformist. We can’t close our eyes. If we say the KP is not the forum for these issues, then we will have to find the next forum.
JCK: Do you think the industry is divided on some of these issues?
Asscher: Yes, of course. There are financial interests. There is difference of opinion. There are different interests in different countries. It is also the old industry versus the more modern world. But I don’t have any illusions we can improve the whole world. But we can give it a try to make the KP as good as it has been over the last 10 years, or better.
JCK: Do you think it’s possible to bridge those differences?
Asscher: If you are asking me, do I have a mission impossible, I don’t think so. I’m at the end of my career. I am going to give it all I have. We all have an interest in the integrity of the diamond product. If we lose that, we lose the business.
JCK: Do you think your political experience helps you here?
Asscher: I say they wanted an angry young man, and they got one. I have 44 years in the diamond industry, and I served four years in the senate in the Netherlands. That helps me understand politics. Diplomacy is not always the way to handle things, but you have to balance your approach. You always have to work with and consult others. I have learned a lot from my years in the senate, and I hope to apply it. I feel this is a great responsibility.