RAPAPORT… The sixth annual World Diamond Council (WDC) meeting concluded in Antwerp with a call to continue the industry’s campaign to eradicate the trade in conflict diamonds.
This year’s gathering, which was attended by some 100 delegates, celebrated the fifth year of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme.
In his report to the plenary session, WDC chairman Eli Izhakoff said that although the trade in conflict diamonds has ceased almost entirely, the industry cannot afford to reduce its ongoing effort.
“The truth of the matter is that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme has been so successful in monitoring the flow of rough diamonds into the pipeline that we concern ourselves today with essentially a limited number of instances of uncertified goods coming into the market, even though the diamonds in question rarely are sourced from an area experiencing any form of civil conflict,” Izhakoff said. “Our reason for behaving in this manner is clear. The system will work effectively only if all diamonds are traced, and not only those which are deemed to originate from a conflict zone.”
Izhakoff said that campaign against conflict diamonds has to be seen against the backdrop of the industry’s greater commitment to improve the livelihoods of the people residing in all areas in which the industry is active. “The World Diamond Council played a key role in raising awareness in the industry to the plight of people living in diamond producing areas. This awareness has evolved into an understanding that our industry has a role to play in helping these people develop sustainable economies and social systems, which are not wholly dependent on the salaries earned by miners extracting the diamonds from the ground.”
Addressing the opening session, Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgium’s Minister of Economic Affairs, added that the fact that the WDC continues to meet regularly is a credit to the commitment and moral backbone of the diamond industry.
“The scourge of conflict diamonds can be likened to a dangerous virus, and the Kimberley Process to a vaccination that keeps it dormant,” Van Quickenborne said. “Like a virus, conflict diamonds can mutate and try to attack once again, threatening the market and lives of innocent men, women and children. But if the Kimberley Process stakeholders – meaning the World Diamond Council, the member governments, the United Nations, European Community and NGOs – remain vigilant, then the Kimberley Process vaccination will continue to deal effectively with any renewed breakout.”
The minister said Kimberley Process demonstrates what government and business can do when they work in cooperation. “The success of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme is living proof of the degree to which government and the private sector can act as a potent and positive force when they work in tandem with a common goal. Once upon a time, governments took care of foreign relations and business took care of itself. In the modern global economy, however, it is very difficult to draw clear lines between the two. But, as our areas of influence have merged, so have our interests. To be effective, we often have to find ways of working together,” Van Quickenborne stated.
The recent decision by Venezuela to withdraw temporarily from the Kimberley Process in order to get its regulatory system in order was praised by speakers at the meeting. “The incidence of diamonds from Venezuela without KP certificates has a great deal to do with tax evasion and very little to do with civil conflict,” Izhakoff said. “But from our perspective that is immaterial. The effectiveness of the Kimberley Process in preventing a re-emergence of the conflict diamonds problem is reliant on all participants following a zero tolerance policy. If any participant is unable to do so, then the entire system is undermined. The fact that Venezuela has agreed to take a time out, so that it can consider ways of correcting its regulatory system, is good for the entire Kimberley Process.”
Alex Yearsley of Global Witness said, “It’s good that Venezuela withdrew from the process. This highlights the need for effective suspension measures, removing countries from the list when necessary.”
The 2009 annual meeting is tentatively planned for St. Petersburg, Russia.