The Kimberley Process: You Can’t Blame a Woman For Trying

When I speak to people about the Kimberley Process these days, I hear the standard weary sighs about all the problems associated with it. But I’m also sensing a real determination to get things done.

Despite the surprisingly convoluted arguments over just where the proposed administrative support mechanism should be based, who should run it, and who will foot the bill, most expect that it will become reality. There are also a whole bunch of other reform initiatives that fall into the “boring but important” category—covering enforcement, monitoring, development, and others things mostly of interest to “KP geeks,” as one source put it—that could be approved at November’s plenary.

But the fate of the most far-reaching, emotional, and most assuredly not boring issue on the table—expanding the definition of conflict diamonds to include diamond-related violence—remains up in the air. The State Dept., and in particular KP chairwoman Gillian Milovanovic, are going all-out to make it happen. Even if South Africa does fulfill its pledge to continue the reform agenda next year—and many have real doubts about that—it will be hard for it to match the commitment and determination Milovanovic has shown. 

Take the State Dept.’s latest contribution, which includes a new “vision statement” from Milovanovic, as well as a FAQ about expanding the definition, which attempts to parry any possible objections. 

Now, this proposed new language will fundamentally alter how the Kimberley Process functions. Currently, the United Nations determines what is, and isn’t, a conflict diamond. Individual KP members can be suspended for non-compliance, but that is generally over technical issues. If the definition is changed, the role of classifying a conflict diamond will fall to the Kimberley Process. This will require an entirely new set of procedures, and how that will work is still being hashed out. 

What’s being proposed is very reasonable, and not as far-reaching as some would hope. The new definition may not even apply to any possible election-related violence in Zimbabwe—if it’s not directly diamond-related—which might disappoint the NGOs. It likely won’t impact situations like we are currently seeing in Marange, where rapes have been alleged at one mine. As gruesome as those charges are, those will likely be considered isolated incidents that constitute an internal labor dispute.

What the new language almost certainly would impact is situations like in Marange in 2008, where chronic violence erupted between government soldiers and illegal diggers in the diamond fields. That led to exports from the region being suspended for two years. But that suspension turned into a huge mess, and the subsequent efforts to resolve the issue nearly brought the scheme to dissolution. The discussions now will hopefully lay out a far less messy roadmap for how to handle these issues in the future.   

The World Diamond Council has endorsed the new definition. But governments are the ones who decide here, and among the countries said to be currently opposed: India, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, as well as some countries in Africa. That’s a fascinating list, as it incorporates just about every growing power in the industry, not to mention the world. (It includes three-quarters of BRIC.) But many are convinced that India is the key here; turn that country around, and the rest might just follow. Changing the definition remains very much an uphill climb. But Milovanovic and company seem determined not to give up.

What if, after all this effort, the KP barely makes any progress? That will give a boost to outside-the-KP efforts like the Responsible Jewellery Council’s chain-of-custody program. However, the reverse is also true: If the Kimberley Process does alter the meaning of conflict diamond, that will establish a new minimum standard for diamonds throughout the pipeline. The RJC’s efforts will still have a role. But they may also be a little less pressing.

Which is yet another reason the industry should get behind a new definition, if only from a business standpoint. These issues have cropped up in the past, and will likely keep doing so. The big retailers, particularly in the U.S., will not want violence-tainted diamonds on their shelves. But if the Kimberley Process doesn’t block those stones, manufacturers will be pressured to establish their own chains of custody. That will cost money. Dealers may have to decide: Who will bear the cost of removing tainted stones from the pipeline: the Kimberley Process—or them?

JCK News Director