From March 18 to 25, Basel will be filled with excitement and beauty as nearly 2,000 companies and 100,000 people in the watch and jewelry business in 100 countries gather for BaselWorld, the world's largest jewelry show.
As is well known, the watch and jewelry business is an important commercial sector in Switzerland, which is also planning to develop an international diamond exchange in Geneva.
If Switzerland wants to play an even greater role in the global and domestic jewelry trade, it should demonstrate more leadership in ending the sale and production of "blood diamonds," gems procured in the context of the most severe human rights abuses. It can do so as a member of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, an international group that monitors the diamond trade.
Switzerland, in fact, was a founding member of the Kimberley Process, which was formally established in 2003 by governments, industry, and civil society to provide both jewelers and consumers with guarantees that their diamond purchases were not underwriting grave abuses, particularly by violent rebel groups.
But those abuses continue. In Zimbabwe, for example, a June 2009 Human Rights Watch report exposed a massacre of 200 people, forced labor, beatings, and rape committed by the Zimbabwean military on diamond fields in Marange. Blood diamonds from Marange continue to be smuggled out of Zimbabwe, and, in part because the Kimberley Process has refrained from taking strong action, these stones are entering the showcases of the world's leading jewelers.
The diamond industry and those who buy fine jewelry need a Kimberley Process that works, and that requires stronger leadership by member countries like Switzerland to curtail the continuing abuses in Zimbabwe.
The Kimberley Process has three major weaknesses. First, the group's charter refers to conflict diamonds only in connection with their use by rebel groups to finance wars against legitimate governments. The definition should be expanded so that the Kimberley Process explicitly condemns human rights abuses connected with diamond production, regardless of whether they are committed by governments or rebel armies. Second, there is little independent monitoring of compliance with Kimberley Process rules and few penalties for violations. Third, the group makes decisions by consensus, rather than by voting, which means that it is difficult for well-meaning countries to take action against a member that violates the rules if even one other member votes to block that action.
Thus, despite a harsh report last summer by a Kimberley Process review team about abuses in Marange, the group voted in November not to suspend Zimbabwe from membership. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, and Tanzania - all Kimberley Process members - blocked the suspension. Instead, the group voted to allow Zimbabwe to implement an action plan that Zimbabwe itself developed. The plan has not yet resulted in any positive changes on the diamond fields.
As a founding member of the Kimberley Process, and in concert with other members, particularly the European Commission, Canada, the United States, and Israel (the current chair), Switzerland should work to correct Kimberley's deficiencies. More immediately, it should publicly condemn Zimbabwe's abuses and call for tougher action against the country.
Switzerland should also join forces with the jewelry industry here and across the globe to stop the sale of blood diamonds and keep them out of Switzerland, including the tax-free zones at Zurich and Geneva airports. The Swiss government, for example, could require importers to audit and publish their supply chains and conduct spot checks of rough and polished diamonds at customs.
Retailers and wholesalers, in particular, should refuse to purchase diamonds that originated in Marange. These diamonds can easily be detected by their hue and the use of a "footprint," or analysis developed by the Kimberley Process. Those in the jewelry industry should ask their suppliers to confirm that the diamonds they sell are not from Marange, are not blood diamonds, and have genuine certificates attesting to the stones' legitimacy.
Switzerland has a lot to lose if its jewelry industry becomes corrupted by blood diamonds. On behalf of its jewelers, consumers, and the people in Marange who have suffered grievously from diamond mining, the Swiss government should make a strong stand. It should not allow human rights abuses to tarnish its gem of a commercial sector.