The diamond trader looked me in the eye and said “If I don’t buy them somebody else will”. He was talking about blood diamonds from Angola, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. It was 1997 and I was sitting in a cramped and anonymous office in Antwerp. I had just returned from investigations in Angola that revealed the awful truth that diamonds were funding and fuelling conflict and the world didn’t appear to realise there was a problem. Millions of people were caught up in the horror of this protracted war, with many hundreds of thousands dead, maimed, or homeless.
Following more research and investigations in Europe, Africa and America, Global Witness launched a campaign to alert the world to what was happening in late 1998. We questioned the accepted view that this was just how the diamond trade worked, and challenged governments, the United Nations and the industry to face up to responsibilities and do something about it.
There was a swift response and recognition of the problem from all involved and mass media coverage internationally. An increasing number of other campaigning groups took up the issue and the Kimberley Process (KP) – a global scheme designed to break the links between diamonds and conflict – was negotiated and then launched at the start of 2003.
The diamond-fuelled wars came to an end for a range of reasons, and countries put in place systems and structures to control the trade in rough diamonds. So that should have been deemed a success, right? Sadly not. Global Witness and a coalition of NGOs – the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition – have pushed continuously to make the KP work. However, the shameful truth is the governments just won’t hold each to account.
For its part, the diamond industry avoided regulation at the time the Kimberley Process was set up by undertaking to deliver a meaningful supply chain control scheme. But nine years on, the industry’s ‘system of warranties’ lacks independent verification. The fact is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, or whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes.
The world has moved on but the Kimberley Process remains stuck in time. Ever more insular, the KP has spent the past few years lurching from one shoddy compromise to the next in a manner that strips away its integrity and undermines its earlier achievements. The KP has failed to deal with the trade in conflict diamonds from Côte d’Ivoire, breaches of the rules by Venezuela and diamonds fuelling corruption and state-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe.
Most recently, the decision to endorse unlimited diamond exports from named companies in the Marange region of Zimbabwe – the scene of mass killings by the national army – has turned an international conflict prevention mechanism into a cynical corporate accreditation scheme.
We now have to recognise that this scheme, begun with so many good intentions, has done much that is useful but ultimately has failed to deliver. It has proved beyond doubt that voluntary schemes are not going to cut it in a multi-polar world where companies and countries compete for mineral resources.
The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated. It is time for the diamond sector to start complying with international standards on minerals supply chain controls, including independent third party audits and regular public disclosure. Governments must show leadership by putting these standards into law.