This week, June 18 to 22, Antwerp hosts a meeting of governments, the diamond industry, and nongovernmental groups to take stock of the Kimberley Process, the certification process set up nearly two decades ago to end the trade in “blood diamonds.” But the Kimberley Process is not up to the task. The European Union—currently the chair of the Kimberley Process—should push for change to improve the protection of human rights starting with mining and throughout the entire supply chain. Belgium has a key role to play as well, as global diamond trading hub and EU member state.
Far away from Antwerp, villagers in Zimbabwe recently faced a violent crackdown by police and soldiers. Why? They were protesting because they believe that state-run companies have looted billions of dollars in revenue from local diamond mines with no benefit to their community. Residents say security force personnel beat women with batons, fired live ammunition into the air, and fired tear gas canisters to disperse the demonstrators—sending three children to the hospital.
Zimbabwe’s diamond mines have a long history of human rights abuses. Armed forces killed more than 200 people when the military first seized control of the mines in 2008 and have coerced children and adults into forced labor. In April, local organizations reported that security guards had handcuffed local miners and unleashed attack dogs on them.
Yet, diamonds from Zimbabwe are exported legally into the international market under the Kimberley Process. Diamonds tainted by abuse—in Zimbabwe or elsewhere—can still reach the global diamond market easily. The Kimberley Process is narrowly focused on curbing abuses perpetrated by armed groups, ignoring those of state actors. It also lacks an independent monitoring system to check if the necessary customs controls are actually in place. Finally, the Kimberley Process only applies to rough diamonds, allowing stones that are fully or partially cut and polished to fall outside the scope of the initiative.
This needs to change. At the Kimberley Process “intersessional” meeting this week, delegates should seek to strengthen human rights protection in diamond supply chains, including by expanding the Kimberley Process definition of conflict diamonds.
Under international standards, companies need to have due diligence safeguards in place to identify and respond to human rights risks throughout their supply chain. Yet, many jewelry companies do not live up to these standards. Human Rights Watch recently scrutinized the diamond sourcing practices of 13 leading jewelry and watch brands, whose combined annual revenue totals about US$30 billion. We found that many companies point to their compliance with the Kimberley Process as evidence that their diamonds are “responsibly sourced,” but take limited action to identify forced labor or other human rights risks in their diamond supply chains.
Companies and governments need to do much more to ensure human rights are protected. The Kimberley Process should adopt a wider definition of “conflict diamonds” to address abuses like those seen in Marange, and establish an independent monitoring system and ensure more rigorous controls. The diamond industry in Antwerp and elsewhere needs to take responsibility, too, and establish robust human rights safeguards throughout the supply chain, to ensure they are not linked to or contributing to human rights abuses in Marange or anywhere else.
Juliane Kippenberg is a child rights expert at Human Rights Watch and co-author of “The Hidden Cost of Jewelry”, a report on jewelry supply chains published in February 2018. Follow her on Twitter @KippenbergJ