One of the few ‘saving graces’ of the Kimberley Process (KP) – the scheme set up to break the link between diamonds and conflict – was the active involvement of Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Two of the most prominent NGOs on the ‘blood diamond’ issue were Partnership Africa Canada and Global Witness. These NGOs were instrumental in exposing the blood diamond problem in the late 1990s and had been involved in the creation of the KP. Whilst NGOs only hold Observer status in the KP, they play an invaluable role through their assistance and advice. The presence of NGOs is vital to the legitimacy of the KP.
However, on the 5th December 2011, Global Witness decided to leave the KP, stating that the scheme had ‘failed’ and it had ‘become an accomplice to diamond laundering – whereby dirty diamonds are mixed in with clean gems.’ The decision by Global Witness to leave the scheme is a damning indictment of the KP’s reinstatement of Zimbabwe’s diamond exports. The relationship between the NGOs and the KP had been strained over Zimbabwe for quite some time. Reports over a massacre of civilian miners by the Zimbabwean army in 2008 led to Zimbabwe’s subsequent suspension from the KP. Since 2010, the KP has been embroiled in a tense debate over whether to allow Zimbabwe to resume exports. At the recent November 2011 meeting, Zimbabwe was given official clearance to resume exports from two Marange mines, despite a BBC report that exposed a Zimbabwean military led ‘torture camp’ in the Marange diamond fields.
Even though Global Witness had disagreed with KP decisions in the past, the failure to prevent Zimbabwe’s blood diamonds from reaching the market proved to be the final straw. The departure of Global Witness has destroyed what little was left of the KP’s legitimacy and its collapse as a credible certification scheme is surely imminent. Consequently, Kimberley certified jewellery can no longer legitimately be labelled conflict-free or ethical. It is now more important than ever for consumers to continue to question jewellers about the origins of their stones in order to ensure that they are truly conflict-free.