The Kimberley Process: A Flawed Solution to Conflict Diamonds

Diamonds are often associated with beauty, luxury, and romance. But behind the sparkle of some diamonds lies a darker reality. You may at some point have heard the term “blood diamond”, which comes from Ed Zwick's motion picture Blood Diamond (2006), starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This film dramatized the origins of the Kimberley Process and helped shine light on the controversy surrounding conflict diamonds, which are used to fund rebel groups that wage war against legitimate governments in some diamond-producing countries, especially in Africa.

To address this humanitarian and security crisis, the UN General Assembly created the Kimberley Process (KP) in the year 2000, a multilateral trade regime that aims to prevent the flow of conflict diamonds. The Kimberley Process requires participating countries to implement strict controls on the export and import of rough diamonds, and to certify them as “conflict-free” using a tamper-resistant container and a forgery-resistant certificate.

The Kimberley Process claims that the “KP members are responsible for stemming 99.8% of the global production of conflict diamonds”. However, the Kimberley Process is far from perfect and has been widely criticized for its shortcomings and failures.

The Kimberley Process Issues

Here are some of the main reasons why the Kimberley Process is problematic when it comes to conventionally mined diamonds:

#1 “Conflict Diamond” Definition

The Kimberley Process has a narrow and outdated definition of conflict diamonds.

  • The KP defines conflict diamonds as “rough diamonds used to finance wars against governments”. This excludes other forms of violence and human rights abuses that are linked to diamond mining, such as child labor, forced labor, torture, rape, environmental degradation, corruption, and tax evasion.
  • Moreover, the Kimberley Process does not cover the trade in polished diamonds, only rough ones. This means that conflict diamonds can be “cleaned” by simply taking them to a polishing factory.

#2 Lack of Enforcement

The KP members must “satisfy ‘minimum requirements’ and establish national legislation” and “trade only with fellow members”. Beyond that, the Kimberley Process relies on self-regulation and doesn’t mitigate the massive risk of governmental corruption.

  • The Kimberley Process is a voluntary scheme that depends on the goodwill and cooperation of participating countries. However, there's no guarantee that all parties comply with the Kimberley Process rules and standards, and there's no mechanism to sanction or penalize those who violate them.
  • The Kimberley Process also lacks a credible and transparent system to verify the origin and traceability of diamonds, and to ensure that the certificates aren't forged or tampered with.

#3 Limited Reach

The Kimberley Process does not address the broader social and environmental impacts of diamond mining. It focuses on the trade aspect of diamonds, but neglects the production and consumption aspects.

  • The Kimberley Process doesn’t regulate the negative effects of diamond mining on local communities, their livelihoods, health, or well-being. “Mines and miners are encouraged to give back to the communities by some KP member countries, and this encouragement might have a positive effect, but it doesn’t go beyond that.
  • The Kimberley Process also does not address the environmental damage caused by diamond mining, such as land degradation, water pollution, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Kimberley Process does not promote the adoption of sustainable and ethical practices in the diamond industry, nor does it encourage consumers to make informed and responsible choices.

The Importance of Improving the Kimberley Process

The Kimberley Process, despite its flaws, is still a valuable initiative that has raised awareness and mobilized action against the trade in conflict diamonds. However, it isn’t enough to ensure that the diamonds we buy are truly ethical and don’t harm the people or the environment where they're mined. The Kimberley Process seems to still be a work in progress, but we can hope that it’ll improve in the near future, by:

  • Expanding the definition of conflict diamonds to include human rights violations, environmental degradation, and corruption.
  • Enhancing the monitoring and verification mechanisms to ensure compliance and transparency among participating countries and companies.
  • Increasing the participation and representation of civil society and local communities in the decision-making and implementation processes.
  • Coordinating with other initiatives and standards that promote responsible sourcing and ethical mining practices on a factory and consumer level.

We Also Have a Role to Play

As consumers, we also have a role to play in demanding and accessing ethical diamonds that aren't tainted by violence, exploitation, or ecological damage. We can do this by:

  • Educating ourselves about the origin and journey of the diamonds we buy.
  • Supporting brands and retailers that adhere to the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility, and that contribute to the development and empowerment of the communities where they operate.
  • Exploring alternative options to conventional mined diamonds, such as lab-grown diamonds, recycled diamonds, or Canadian-mined diamonds, that offer the same beauty and quality without the negative impacts.