Why "Conflict-Free" Diamonds Are Unreliable: Kimberley Process is "Pandora's Box" of Ethical Issues


Image: ljv via flickr

It's not exactly breaking news, but this topic is worth a recap. The Kimberley Process was established to prevent diamond sales from funding conflict—"blood diamonds"—but in reality, not a whole lot has changed. Chances are good that those "certified conflict-free" diamonds you might be shopping for as an ethical consumer are just as connected to violence and forced labor as any pre-Kimberley Process diamond was.

Martin Rapaport, chairman of Rapaport Group, which runs a diamond-pricing service, said last month, "Even a child can see the [Kimberley Process]'s emperor has no clothes."The Focus Is On Zimbabwe, But It's A Global Issue
Rapaport was referring to the KP certification of more than $200 million worth of diamonds from Zimbabwe's Marange fields, which are notorious for human rights abuses, including state police and private security guards "shooting, beating and unleashing attack dogs" on local miners.

Reports have come out that Marange diamonds have also been sold illegally and traded for arms that end up with a rebel group in Mozambique.

Rapaport said the Marange fields opened up a "Pandora's box of complex ethical, legal and financial issues" for the industry.

A new analysis from Partnership Africa Canada, which played a key role in creating the scheme to begin with, showed that the Kimberley Process is "unable and unwilling to hold to account participating countries that repeatedly break the rules."

"Unless governments are willing to support significant reforms, which seems unlikely, activists must seek other mechanisms to prevent diamonds from fueling violence and human rights violations," said an AfricaFocus report.

AfricaFocus continues that Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, Republic of Congo, Ghana, Brazil, and Venezuela have all faced corrective measures, including suspension from the Kimberley Process, due to non-compliance—meaning that Zimbabwe is by no means the first country to be singled out for having compliance issues:

But Zimbabwe does stand out as a country where state actors have unleashed murderous violence on their own diamond sector. There is also a significant difference in attitude between officials from Zimbabwe and other countries with weak internal controls. Officials from Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo have openly admitted their challenges and sought assistance. Zimbabwe has failed to acknowledge any problems, refusing assistance from many quarters, including South Africa and Ghana.

This may seem insignificant while you're shopping for conflict-free diamonds, since Zimbabwe is only one country. But Zimbabwe is the world's seventh largest diamond-producing nation. And since there's no way to really discern where a diamond originates, yours can come from Zimbabwe and you have no way to know.

It's problematic for the Kimberley Process because the human rights abuses in Zimbabwe's diamond mines are, like the country's other political problems, quite blatant. If the abuses aren't even hidden and diamonds are allowed to be certified, what does that mean for countries that show more regard for their public image. Congo, for example, from which reports continue to flow of blood diamonds making their way into the international market.

The Democratic Republic of Congo also happens to be the focus of a lawsuit taking place in Texas, where Glacial Energy is being sued for secretly mining blood diamonds in the Congo.

A Lonely Battle
Back to Zimbabwe. There's one human rights campaigner who has focused on this issue and documented abuses for years, but he hasn't done so without a struggle.

Farai Maguwu—recipient of a Human Rights Watch award for "his tremendous courage in exposing abuses in Zimbabwe's diamond fields and working to end rampant violations of human rights throughout the region"—has been arrested multiple times and was recently banned from leaving the country. His passport and laptop were seized as he was leaving for Ireland to speak at the Dublin Platform for Human Rights Defenders. (A court ordered his things returned to him a couple days later.)

Maguwu, who focuses on the Chiadzwa diamond fields, says that whenever a Kimberley Process official visits the diamond fields, there is an upsurge in violence, with soldiers victimizing ordinary civilians.

Amnesty International says, "Despite its pledge to support the Kimberley Process and Clean Diamond Trade Act, the Diamond Industry has fallen short of implementing the necessary policies for self-regulation. The retail sector in particular fails to provide sufficient assurance to consumers that the diamonds they sell are conflict-free."

Until the process is cleaned up, it's hard to trust that Kimberley-certified diamonds are any different than the blood diamonds that people got so worked up over years ago. Which means the question remains, what happened to that global sense of awareness and concern?

More on conflict diamonds:
Conflict Minerals 101: Coltan, the Congo Act, and How You Can Help
Will Conflict Diamonds from Zimbabwe be Certified as Conflict-Free?
Is an Industry Group Really Doing the Most to Stop the Blood Diamond Trade?

Tags: Africa | Jewelry | South Africa

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