Christina T Miller living room sessions

Living Room Session: Diamonds

csr diamonds living room sessions social issues sustainibility May 17, 2021

Diamond impacted communities are asking to benefit from diamonds mined where they live, that their quality of life is improved, and that human rights abuses are investigated, remedied and perpetrators held accountable.

The diamond trade spurred global conversations around human rights and responsible supply chains and ignited jewelry industry professionals to begin engaging more consciously with their materials many years ago. Since then, the jewelry industry has advanced its understanding of the issues around responsible practice generally, created numerous initiatives centered on responsible sourcing, and has seen the rise of technology’s impact on the trade through communication about and the production of these materials. As we continue to work towards transparency and consistently improving our practices, now is a prime time to reexamine our processes and refine our approach.

April’s Living Room session posed questions such as, “Should we abandon conflict-free claims?”, “What can and can’t we claim when selling diamonds?”, and “Where do the diamond and jewelry industries have the greatest leverage to affect change in the diamond trade?”

We were joined by guests Jared Holstein, Owner of D’Amadeo (U.S.); Simiso Mlevu, Project and Communications Officer for the Centre for Natural Resource Governance (CNRRG) (Zimbabwe); and Hans Merket, Researcher at the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) (Belgium). Hans’s and Simiso’s organizations are members of the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC). The KPCSC acts as an observer to the Kimberley Process which certifies that rough diamonds are conflict-free.


The Kimberley Process currently claims that 99.8% of diamonds are conflict-free, yet we also continue to see reports of violence, abuses, and environmental damage in diamond-impacted communities. As businesses and individuals striving to conduct responsible business, how do we make sense of this and how should the industry respond?

To understand the state of the diamond industry now, we must look back and understand its history

The trade of diamonds is historically and deeply tied to colonialist and exploitative practices, which have generational impacts on the economic, social, and environmental wellbeing of those who live in diamond mining areas. Since the start of the diamond trade, the people with control over diamond mining and trading have predominantly been non-African. Beyond impeding diamond mining countries’ abilities to economically benefit from the trade of diamonds, people in diamond mining communities have endured over a hundred years of violence, abuse, and destruction of natural resources.

Sierra Leone and the Establishment of the Kimberley Process

Between 1991 to 1999, more than 75,000 Sierra Leonians were brutally killed, millions were displaced, and hundreds of thousands became refugees. The total number of people who have died as a result of violence over diamonds is likely in the millions, though it is impossible to calculate accurately with the available data. In 2000, IMPACT (then Partnership Africa Canada) published The Heart of the Matter: Sierra Leone, Diamonds and Human Security. This report made the connection between the production and trade of rough diamonds with conflict financing. Right around the time of publication, the United Nations took action, passing United Nations General Assembly Resolution 55/56 aimed at addressing diamond sales that were fueling conflict. From here it took three years of meetings and negotiations to develop the Kimberley Process standard.

The goal of the Kimberley Process Certification System (KPCS) was to increase transparency and oversight in the diamond industry in order to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds.

There are currently 56 member countries that have included the Kimberley Process Certification System (KPCS) in their national law. As part of the KPCS, members must:

  • Satisfy ‘minimum requirements’ and establish national legislation, institutions, and import/export controls;
  • Commit to transparent practices and to the exchange of critical statistical data
  • Trade only with fellow members who also satisfy the fundamentals of the agreement; and
  • Certify shipments as conflict-free and provide the supporting certification

While the KPCS has been regarded as an important step in increasing oversight of diamond supply chains, its efficacy has been questioned by NGOs, human rights-oriented nonprofits, and members of civil society who make up or have made up the KP Civil Society Coalition (a Coalition that observes the Kimberley Process). Global Witness left the Coalition and scheme in 2011 citing “The Kimberley Process’s refusal to evolve and address the clear links between diamonds, violence, and tyranny has rendered it increasingly outdated.”

The organization released a press release saying that despite intensive efforts, the scheme’s main flaws and loopholes have not been fixed and most of the governments that run the scheme continue to show no interest in reform. Global Witness Founding Director Charmian Gooch stated “Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still cannot be sure where their diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes.”

Another notable organization, IMPACT, also left the scheme in 2017, citing a lack of progress on part of the KPCS regarding desired reforms, including improvements to internal controls and an expansion of the KPCS’s definition of “conflict diamonds.” Executive Director, Joanne Lebert, noted “The Kimberley Process—and its certificate—has lost its legitimacy. The internal controls that governments conform to do not provide the evidence of traceability and due diligence needed to ensure a clean, conflict-free, and legal diamond supply chain.”

How the Kimberley Process defines conflict diamonds is an essential element of the disconnect between the reported statistic that 99.8% of diamonds are conflict-free and the ongoing reports of harm in diamond mining-affected communities. The KPCS defines “conflict diamonds” as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments” and currently claims that 99.8% of the worlds’ diamonds are “conflict-free.”

When we read this definition clearly and understand that it is limited to rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance armed conflicts aimed at undermining legitimate governments, we can see that, in fact, this definition is quite limited in its scope and does not apply to many other instances of human rights violations including but not limited to systemic violence, displacement, rape, torture, among many other types of harm.

So, how is the Kimberley Process Certification held accountable?

The Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition (KPCSC) is a counterpart to the KP. It is a diverse group of stakeholders representing communities affected by diamond mining and trade. The KPCSC acts as an observer to the Kimberley Process Certification System and works to improve the diamond sector governance and enable KP implementation on the ground through local and regional expertise.

During April’s Living Room Session, KPCSC organizations represented by members Hans Merket and Simiso Mlevu, shared insights on how the KP is working, its effectiveness, and the reforms that the KPCSC is requesting of the scheme.

The KPCSC works on three levels:

  1. Regional: Three regional groups work together on cross-border dynamics such as the smuggling of diamonds and harmonizing fiscal regimes. Regional groups include Southern Africa, Central Africa, and Western Africa.
  2. National: This operational level is primarily NGO members working with governments and industry actors in the country on governance issues related to diamonds.
  3. International: This level works through the KP, however, the group is now increasingly reaching out to other stakeholders that want to engage on conflict diamond issues to increase the impact of the work.

The KPCSC has been primarily working on issues through advocacy and field-based research. Its primary role is to monitor if the KP is implemented correctly, if the process is effective, and to communicate on concerns expressed by diamond mining-impacted communities. Despite its important role of representing key stakeholders in the diamond trade, the KPCSC is not empowered with decision-making powers, which rests ultimately with the KP members.

Hans explained the KPCSC’s frustration with the KPCS:

“We have lost quite a faith in the Kimberley Process. We have invested - between the past two years and very intensively between 2017 and 2019 - a lot of energy, resources, and time to reform the process. We're very frustrated that it didn't really deliver anything but some small, minimal changes. And that is why we decided that we needed to move our efforts elsewhere. We stay in the KP as a watchdog because we feel that is needed, but we also want to try and look at other levels and other places to see where there's room to generate change and action in areas that the KP is unable to address. And that is other human rights concerns that do not fall under the quite narrow definition of conflict, which is why we also increasingly reach out to jewelers and then to retailers and industry to see where the momentum is and how we can generate change.”

The KPCSC recently released a video and hosted a webinar, engaging networks of stakeholders not previously engaged directly by the group - the jewelry industry. Hans described the improvements that the KPCSC is requesting as pragmatic, “We decided to focus on an expansion of definition that would include cases of systematic or widespread violence, which is language from international law. For us, it includes many cases that today aren’t covered by the KP, including violence by public/private security forces against miners and communities, and rebels that are actually not seeking to overthrow governments but that are abusing miners. We wanted to focus on cases of widespread or systematic violence that was, for us, the core, or the the minimum, that needed to happen.”

Where Are We Now?

Fellow member, Simiso Mlevu of the Centre for Natural Resource Government, told the Living Room Community about the history and current state of the diamond trade in Zimbabwe.

The organization was formed in 2012 following serious human rights abuses in Marange, Zimbabwe, where diamonds were discovered around 2005. During that time, Zimbabwe experienced an economic crisis. With the discovery of substantial deposits, the government attempted to force artisanal miners out. In 2008, the government deployed the police to remove the artisanal miners. After some resistance, the military and helicopters were called in as reinforcement to chase away artisanal miners.

Later that year, about 200 artisanal miners were gunned down in a space of two weeks, starting a human rights crisis related to diamond mining. Because of the extent of the killings, many fled the area. Afterward, the government introduced formal large-scale diamond mining, though human rights abuses continued because people would still attempt to perform artisanal mining in territories designated for large-scale mines. They were regarded as intruders and the terrible violence against individuals attempting to mine continued. Strict limitations were placed on who can move around the area and how. Individuals must travel long distances to get clearances to be in the area.

The Center for Natural Resource Governance was founded as a result of this conflict between the state, companies, and diamond mining-impacted communities. Simiso describes the organization’s mission, “We work with the community to capacitate them to understand their basic human rights, we have been documenting cases of human rights abuses, we have been monitoring what is happening in the area.”

“Two weeks ago we spent six days on the ground doing research on artisanal mining. When [the government] introduced large-scale diamond mining in Zimbabwe, they automatically outlawed artisanal diamond mining, but as of today it still exists.” Simiso shared, “Artisanal mining still exists in Zimbabwe and is benefitting the few.”

“The existence of artisanal mining in Zimbabwe brings us to the question, ‘where are the diamonds going?’ It’s definitely getting into the market chain. It is doing so untraced. So we want to start advocating for the government of Zimbabwe to adopt the Washington Declaration of 2012, where the Kimberley Process called for the recognition and development of artisanal and small scale mining through formalization initiatives, so that there is better traceability and the sector can be regulated. At the end of the day, once these diamonds get into the market, they end up with the jewelers and it ends up producing jewelry that the consumers then start buying.”

Brad Brooks-Rubin, a former State Department official and U.S. Representative working with the Kimberley Process from 2009-2013 contributed his perspective, saying that, at the time, the violence in Zimbabwe needed to be addressed and order needed to be restored, acknowledging that the way in which order was pursued was “very problematic.” He went on to say of the Kimberley Process, “We ended up being able to approach it from a systemic kind of minimum requirements issue, which was, we adopted a finding that the chaos that was described in that area, and that was found to be existing in that area meant that there was not a clear supply chain through which diamonds were moving and then could ultimately get a certificate issued by that government... That is because the government didn't have control and diamonds were being smuggled out. Therefore, Zimbabwe was not complying with the requirements to have a system that controlled its diamonds.”

“The finding wasn't - there are human rights violations, the finding wasn't - artisanal miners are being used, the finding wasn't - the military has taken over this area, the finding was, ‘you don't have the right system in place.’ The KP established as a result, though, a pretty unique system, which was pretty innovative at the time to have a monitor - a third party from another government - who wasn't a government official at all - come and basically oversee the process. That then got very politicized in terms of the decision making about when that monitor would or would not be allowed to certify diamonds. And essentially, from there, the Kimberley Process devolved into a real impasse.”

What actions should the members of the KP and jewelry industry be concerned about?

Brad continued, “Consumers in the US and many in the industry are not splitting hairs over where the blood comes from on a diamond. We need to address this as the Kimberley Process clearly, and the Kimberley Process at the time refused to do that, and as you've heard, still refuses to do that…. The only way that situation will change is if the industry - a broader array of folks in the industry and in the broader public - are clear with governments and clear with other members of the industry - from bigger companies from other parts of the world that are in trading centers in India and Dubai, etc - that this does matter. Many in the industry, and many governments have been willing to wager that those tens of billions of dollars...are going to be minimally affected by consumers who actually care about this issue. And that, therefore, you know, they can get away with not doing very much about it. Because at the end of the day, people still want to buy diamonds, and they're going to ask pretty minimal questions.”

Speaking to the current thinking within the jewelry industry, Jared Holstein highlighted the incredibly complex nature of these challenges, in particular, claims about “conflict-free”. “I would only feel comfortable saying that newly-mined diamonds (of unspecified origin) are Kimberley Process compliant, as the KP conflict-diamond definition is overly narrow and simply inconsistent with what consumers think the word “conflict” means. This has turned jewelers into sometime liars, however inadvertently, and led consumers into believing something that isn't necessarily true.”

Jared also cited a critical reason for lack of progress is that there is “a massive data desert” where there is little fundamental and accurate impact data for, and general surveillance of, mining operations and the flow of diamonds.

Can we rely on a certification scheme to guarantee conflict-free diamonds? Hans questions whether a certification scheme can still be an answer to the challenges we see today. “Operating a certification scheme is a huge responsibility. If you entrust diamonds with the KP quality mark you need to be able to provide guarantees to those relying on this scheme that nothing untoward is mixed into it. And that requires close monitoring, as people have been developing in small scale, closed pipeline systems for other minerals. This is not easy. Doing that sector-wide is really difficult, it’s nearly impossible. The KP at present in any case does not have the means to live up to that responsibility.”

What is the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition asking for?

Each year, millions of carats of diamonds are bought and sold. Billions of dollars are made through the production of diamond mining, yet communities in diamond mining areas remain struggling with economic instability and difficulty meeting basic needs. When asked about the changes that the KPCSC would like to see in the trade, Hans and Simiso shared that before we can even reach a point of demanding that these communities fairly benefit from the trade, diamond mining communities are first imploring to be free of systemic violence and realize their basic human right to safety.

Simiso says, “The communities want to be free from harassment. The communities want the mining companies to stick to their corporate social responsibility. Moreover, they also want the government to allow them to also extract diamonds in a legal manner, they do not want or they do not enjoy playing hide and seek with the private security guards who intend causing physical harm or injuries on them. So if you engage the communities, they will tell you, we want it for roads, we want access to clean water, we want textbooks in our schools, and we want permission to undertake artisanal mining and trade lawfully or legally.”

Part of the reason that the KP has not evolved is that decision-making powers lie with its members which are countries. As a result of the inaction by the KP, the KPCSC is now reaching out to the diamond and jewelry industries directly to educate people about the realities in diamond supply chains and to mobilize change.

What can the Jewelry Community do about conflict diamonds?

First, we must consider how we use our words. How do we, as a community, choose our messaging and determine the kind of language we want to percolate throughout the jewelry industry? For this reason, we pose the question, “should we abandon conflict-free claims?” If we are honest about the realities, the fact is that a great deal of opacity of potential cases of abuse remains tied to the trade. It is only through being honest about what we know and don’t know that we can start to move closer to solutions.

Second, due diligence is critical for all businesses sourcing precious metals and gemstones, including diamonds. Certification may generally add structure and help a business get more insight into its supply chain, but it is not enough. Implementing transparency, traceability, and active monitoring are the basic first steps to determining how to responsibly source materials. Then, what is done with the information, is where the difference is made. Public disclosure of human rights abuses found in your business’s supply chain is a fundamental step.

It is complex and frustrating. Many in the Living Room community are artists, independent makers, and small businesses with limited resources. Although many in the trade had no hand in creating the current environment of the diamond trade, we still hold a responsibility to not enable it further. While it may feel like we lack the power to tackle such complicated issues, we do have the power to be honest. We can do our part in being honest about the impacts of the materials we buy, in our marketing of these materials, and in conversations with customers.

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