After months of failed attempts at reform, the environmental and human rights NGO Global Witness has announced its withdrawal from the Kimberley Process certification scheme (KPCS). The group was instrumental in helping set up the scheme in 2003, which was intended to prevent the international trade of conflict-ridden ‘blood diamonds’.
Controversy over the scheme’s legitimacy heightened in June, when the civil society branch of the KPCS walked out of international proceedings in Kinshasa. The walk-out was in protest of the decision to allow exports from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields, the reported site of various human rights abuses.
Annie Dunnebacke, a senior campaigner for Global Witness, said while there were multiple reasons for the withdrawal, the issues in Zimbabwe ultimately served as the ‘catalyst’ of the NGO’s decision.
‘The situation in Zimbabwe has shone a light on the systemic weaknesses of the KP,’ Dunnebacke told the Ecologist. ‘Zimbabwe is the most egregious case [of human rights abuses] that the KP has had to deal with in its existence—and it hasn’t been able to deal with it.’
Dunnebacke also cited the KP’s decision in November to allow several private, joint-venture companies to export Marange diamonds from Zimbabwe. Both of these companies, says Dunnebacke, have ties to senior members of Robert Mugabe’s political party, Zanu-PF.
‘By giving green light to specific companies for diamond export, KP has gone from being a country-level compliance scheme to purporting to be a corporate accreditation scheme. It’s not equipped to do that.’
Global Witness is still committed to the cause of cleaning up the diamond trade. However, founding director Charmian Gooch said in a statement that the focus and burden of responsibility must now be placed on industry and government.
'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,' the statement read. 'Governments must show leadership by putting these standards into law.'
In a statement from the World Diamond Council, President Eli Itzhakoff said that the industry sector views Global Witness’ decision as ‘counterproductive.’
‘The overriding goal of the KPCS has been to protect the integrity of the diamond, so that it properly contributes to bettering the lives of ordinary people living in the areas in which it is mined and processed,’ the statement read. ‘The system is not perfect, and is in need of constant review. However, you cannot contribute to the process if you are no longer engaged.’
Dunnebacke acknowledged that consumers now have a lot of responsibility. While Global Witness is not calling for an all-out boycott of diamonds, she said that consumers need to be both wary and diligent.
‘Consumers are not in an easy position because most retailers cannot tell them where their diamonds come from,’ Dunnebacke explained. ‘The best thing consumer can do, if they must buy a diamond, is ask a lot of questions. That will push retailers to find out where their diamonds come from.’
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