RAPAPORT… The controversy at the Kimberley Process (KP) regarding Zimbabwe’s Marange diamonds took center stage during a panel discussion held at the JCK Las Vegas show on Thursday afternoon. The event, titled “Diamond Dialogue: The Challenges of a Robust Kimberley Process” was hosted by the World Diamond Council (WDC) and moderated by Cecilia Gardner, president of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC).
Panel speakers included Nadim Kara, campaign director of natural resources at Partnership Africa Canada (PAC), Brad Brooks-Rubin, conflict diamond negotiator for the U.S. State Department, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, governing board co-president of the Diamond Empowerment Fund (DEF), Matt Runci, president of Jewelers of America (JA) and chairman of the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), Susan Jacques, president of Borsheim’s, and Eli Izhakoff, president of the WDC.
Izhakoff opened the debate by noting that the current challenges that the KP faces in Zimbabwe are extraordinary, though ones that the process can ultimately weather. “This past year has been a very tumultuous year for the KP. For the past few months we have been in a mess and we are still in a mess,” he said. “However, from every situation like this we do come out stronger. I think with good will on all sides we will be able to reach an agreement. We have to have that attitude because the other option is not acceptable.”
Underlying the seriousness of the situation, Runci added that the politicization of the KP around the Zimbabwe issue has clearly elevated the negative press around the KP to a level that no one can ignore. At stake, he stressed, was consumer confidence in diamonds and jewelry.
When asked what changes the process needed to implement to become more robust and efficient, the panelists offered a wide range of ideas. Izhakoff argued that the KP would be more credible if it had a super majority vote. “At least then we would be able to move forward on issues instead of being bogged down,” he noted. Izhakoff also saw the need for better public relations for the regulatory scheme. “We need more transparency. We don’t allow the press into the plenary session of the KP, we don’t talk to the press,” he said.
Brooks-Rubin made the case for a more structured organization, one better equipped to handle its day to day business. “Ultimately it’s a regulatory system without regulators,” he said. “There is nobody whose job it is to work on the KP every day,” he explained. “That to me is the biggest issue we face. Without a sound structure in the middle that keeps all the players together and communicating, much is lost.”
Kara noted, however, that such proposals are already gaining steam. “There is a proposal to establish a secretariat for the KP. Israel, the past chair, has made a strong push for that.”
Despite the need for change, many still touted the organization’s accomplishments and necessity. Jacques argued that the KP and its system of warrantees are indispensable for retailers. “Jewelry clients come to us because they trust us,” he said. “I think the system of warrantees in the KP is vitally important in that it provides us with an ability to communicate to our clients that we are doing everything we can in our sphere of influence to control what is coming into our stores.”
Chavis also praised the process, asserting that despite its setbacks and challenges, it has improved the life and well-being of many in African countries. “You have to evaluate what’s happening in 2011 against a larger backdrop and not what’s been going on this year or during the last few months,” he said. “In the majority of cases, buying diamonds helps empower Africa nations. The 10 strongest economies in Africa happen to be the diamond producing nations. So the issue is not whether we need the KP but instead how we can strengthen it.”