Déjà Vu?

Just when you thought it was safe to buy diamonds again, here comes Zimbabwe. Diamonds from Zimbabwe come from three areas, two mined by large companies that are compliant with the Kimberley Process. The third, Marange, was discovered in 1986 by De Beers, which never developed the claim and in 2006 relinquished mining rights. Though another company took up the claim, it was promptly co-opted by the Zimbabwean government, which used deadly force to evict freelance miners. Killed were an estimated 185–200 miners, while hundreds more were injured or abused by government forces. These atrocities and human rights violations were confirmed by Kimberley Process investigators but continue still, as documented in a report by the nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch.

Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process is designed only to stop diamonds traded by criminals or rebel groups, not governments behaving badly. So while the KP has called for diamonds from this area to be withheld from the market pending resolution of the abuses in the Marange region, Zimbabwe remains a member nation of the KP.

Enter Martin Rapaport. Outspoken about the conflict diamond issue for 10 years, Rapaport—self-appointed or otherwise—serves somewhat as an industry conscience. He recently resigned from the World Diamond Council, the industry body advising the Kimberley Process, because he says the tainted diamonds aren’t being withheld from trade but are simply mixed with legitimate KP-approved parcels.

Rap makes valid points. We can’t brush off the situation in Zimbabwe and say the Kimberley Process folks will put in monitors, serve notice on the bad guys, and our job is done.

It’s not done. Without vigilant adherence and serious consequences for those who cheat, there will be continued risk of an end run around the KP or any other system of warranties. The Kimberley Process isn’t perfect, but it’s the only weapon we have right now to try and keep bloody diamonds out of the supply chain.

Rapaport’s WDC resignation has been called grandstanding, and it maybe—but the point of grandstanding is to get your audience’s attention. Apart from the more socially conscious members of the industry, would anyone have noticed if Rap had simply said, “Folks, we have a problem here that needs to be addressed?”

We do have a problem that needs to be addressed. So before we end up in 60 Minutes‘ crosshairs (again), let’s stop grousing about Rapaport’s propensity for drama and start focusing on the real problem: Human beings are being harmed for the sake of diamond profits.

We need to rigorously enforce the Kimberley Process and not allow even a suggestion of sidestepping it.

It might also be time to question the letter vs. the spirit of the law, as it were. If the KP was drafted in response to the horrors taking place in Sierra Leone and to stop the flow of blood diamonds a decade ago, then even if the letter of the law says “illicit” diamonds (meaning any outside of official channels), isn’t the spirit of the law to ensure that nobody is injured, maimed, or killed for the sake of a diamond? If that’s so, then perhaps it’s time to revisit—and revise—the KP. This isn’t a static industry, the world isn’t a static place, and the KP shouldn’t be a static document.

While one can argue that people need jewelry for a variety of emotional reasons, people can live without it,and, as we saw in 2008, it’s a harsh reality for our industry when they choose not to buy it. This industry has done much good—Jewelers for Children has raised millions of dollars to help sick and disadvantaged children, and the Diamond Empowerment Fund is working hard to fund educational institutions in Africa. Hopefully, some of those educated by DEF-funded schools can ensure that the kinds of issues discussed here won’t continue in the future.

Centurion and the Tucson gem shows were upbeat and positive, with significant business being done. There’s a new sense of optimism and a positive outlook for the year. It’s been challenging enough, and the last thing we need now is to be dragged back into a negative spotlight—even worse if it’s deserved.

So let’s not shoot the messenger before we get the message.


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