Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Diamonds, violence and tyranny: NGO Global Witness leaves the Kimberley Process

By Vivienne Benson

There was no doubt a degree of scepticism from Mike Davis from Global Witness when he spoke about the Kimberley Process at the beginning of our Conflicting Interests: Business and Development Seminar Series in November. So, yesterday’s announcement that the international NGO has decided to leave the diamond certification scheme, which was originally established to stop the trade in blood diamonds, is not altogether surprising.

Mike Davis cited several reasons why the scheme has been unsuccessful in his seminar:
  • A myth has emerged that the Kimberley Process solved conflicts such as those in Liberia and Sierra Leone – the reality is that the process only got underway after the conflicts had ended.
  • The only controlled part of the diamond trade is from the moment the diamond is exported from the producer company to when it is imported at the other end.
  • There are no clear standards for supply chain control or due diligence, which is a huge weakness –the industry relies on the State to control the flow of the diamond’s certification, but this creates a problem because often the State is not able (or not willing) to do this properly.
Charmaine Gooch, Founding Director of Global Witness further argued this point yesterday*, on the role of industry:
‘The diamond industry must finally take responsibility for its supply chains and prove that the stones it sells are clean.’ She continued, ‘they should be required to demonstrate that the diamonds it sells are not fuelling abuses – by complying with international standards on minerals supply chain controls, including independent third party audits and regular public disclosure. Governments must show leadership by putting these standards into law.’
So how should businesses operate in areas of conflict?
This sentiment has been repeatedly echoed throughout the seminar series – with several references to John Ruggie, UN Special Representative on Business and Human Rights who within the UN 'Protect, Respect and Remedy' Framework in 2009 laid out guiding principles for businesses and states operating in areas of conflict, in particular:
  • Because the risk of gross human rights abuses is heightened in conflict-affected areas, States should help ensure that business operating in those contexts are not involved with such abuses.
  • Some operating environments, such as conflict-affected areas, may increase the risks of enterprises being complicit in gross human rights abuses committed by other actors.
This reiterates a key theme from the seminar series, that the State and industry cannot operate separately, or in place of each other, particularly as their interests are inherently different. Businesses should not be expected to take over the State role, but they should adhere to international due diligence standards and always consider their impact on the communities in which they operate.

* Global Witness (2011), Global Witness leaves Kimberley Process, calls for diamond trade to be held accountable, http://www.globalwitness.org/library/global-witness-leaves-kimberley-process-calls-diamond-trade-be-held-accountable, (accessed on 5 December 2011)

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