Shades of Green

We look at whether the Kimberley Process produces ethical diamonds.

Kat Slowe looks at whether the Kimberley Process certification alone is enough to ensure diamonds are ethically sourced.

“It’s shades of green,” says Christian Cheesman, director of ethical materials provider CRED.
A percentage of all CRED profits go to the CRED Foundation, a charitable organisation which promotes economic justice in the jewellery industry. CRED Sources, a partner company from which the jeweller obtains its materials, provides fair trade metals and ethically sourced stones to designers.

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Cheesman is exhibiting at Essence, the ethical showcase at Treasure, during London Jewellery Week. The exhibition is the first time there has been a collective of ethical jewellers at the event. Designers showcasing include April Doubleday, Avasarah, Choo Yilin, CRED, Fifi Bijoux, Leblas, Oria and Ute Decker.

The display reflects a growing movement in the jewellery industry towards greater accountability for sourcing stones. Yet, the challenges that still need to be overcome are numerous, with many industry leaders calling for existing procedures to be updated.

The best known certification for ethical diamonds is the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). The Kimberley process, which was started in 2003, seeks to prevent the sale of conflict diamonds. Conflict diamonds are stones for which the proceeds of the mining process go towards rebel movements to finance wars against legitimate governments.

As of December 2009, the Kimberley Process had 49 members, representing 75 countries around the world. When designers claim their stones are ethically sourced, they often mean that the stones possess Kimberley Certification. Yet, some people remain critical that the scheme does not go far enough, as it fails to take into account the working conditions of labour or sustainable mining practices.

“The Kimberley process is pretty good, but it has got some holes,” Cheesman says. “I think we should maybe be re-visiting that process and possibly giving it more meat.”

One problem is that, as the diamonds are certified by Kimberley only upon receipt, it is difficult to ensure unethical stones are not mixed into the bag by certified providers during the mining process.

“There is vulnerability if stones get mixed in before the diamonds are sealed,” explains Cheesman, “if someone has a Kimberley license, they could take a handful of stones and mix them in.”

“All the rough goes into the Kimberley office and I’d like to see more transparency into the mining stage before that, to protect against them being conflict stones.”

Controversy over the KPCS’ role reached a height last month, as organisation monitor Abbey Chikane released a report recommending that Zimbabwe had met the basic requirements for diamond certification. The country has been plagued over the past couple of years by reports of human rights abuses and state looting of the fields to fund military violence.

Additional public outcry occurred after human rights activist Farai Maguwu was arrested following a meeting with KP monitor Chikane, with a series of NGOs calling for his immediate release. A prominent activist, who reported alleged abuses in Zimbabwe’s notorious Marange diamond fields, Maguwu has reportedly been jailed and repeatedly denied access to food, legal council and medication.

Global Watch, which is an organisation that seeks to expose the corrupt exploitation of natural resources and international trade systems, was one of the leading voices calling for Muguwu’s release and published a report last month condemning the practices taking place in Zimbabwe, titled ‘Return of the blood diamonds’.

Global Witness campaigner Elly Harrowell says: “Over the past three years, the national army has visited appalling abuses on civilians in Marange’s diamond fields. Nobody has been held to account for these crimes, and now it turns out that the joint venture companies nominally brought in to improve conditions are directly linked to the Zanu PF and military elite. Thanks to the impunity and violence in Zimbabwe, blood diamonds are back on the international market.”

The report was also critical of the Kimberley process, which it claimed had repeated failed to react effectively to the crisis.

Partnership Canada Africa made similar claims in its new report ‘DIAMONDS AND CLUBS: The Militarized Control of Diamonds and Power in Zimbabwe’.

The organisation claimed that Zimbabwe posed a serious crisis of credibility for the KP, stating that its impotence in the face of ‘thuggery and illegality’ in Zimbabwe ‘underscored a worrisome inability or unwillingness to enforce either the letter, or the spirit, of its founding mandate’.

According to the PAC, Zimbabwe mines minister Obert Mpofu’ temporary export ban on all Zimbabwe diamonds was a ruse aimed at disguising the government’s true intentions.

“The Zanu-PF leadership has no intention of voluntarily changing its tune,” PAC research director Alan Martin says. “Zimbabwe should be excluded from the KP.”



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