A controversial meeting ended today in Johannesburg ostensibly to curb the market in blood diamonds, but there is little evidence it’s working.
The “Kimberly Process Certificate Scheme” (KPCS) was set up about a decade a go by a number of countries deeply involved in the diamond trade as a response to growing public awareness that diamonds were being used to fund horrible wars and human rights’ abuses.
Much of this was popularized by the famous movie, “Blood Diamond“ which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and depicted the civil wars in west Africa that were the motivation to create the KPCS.
The convention was partially successful in the beginning and seems to actually have stemmed the trade of blood diamonds that were financing the Sierra Leone and Liberian civil wars. When those ended just before the movie was released, more than 81 countries with mining or marketing interests in diamonds had joined the KPCS.
Essentially the convention manages certification of all exported diamonds. If a dealer sells gems that don’t have the certification, it’s presumed they could be blood diamonds.
There is no country legislation or treaty enforcement; this is an entirely voluntary process, but in the beginning it seemed to be working.
Diamond sellers, particularly wholesalers, became quite sensitive to having the proper KPCS certificates.
But as the great West African wars ended that prompted the formation of the organization, so did enthusiasm for its job.
But the use of blood diamonds did not end.
Just as with ivory, coltan and other precious materials, the nexus of the illicit diamond trade has moved into central Africa, in the DRC-Congo and CAR.
But either dealers were being disingenuous or simply were too ignorant to have realized that these new areas of conflict were serious areas for black market diamonds. Whichever it was, fewer dealers are today interested in certification.
And there were other situations in Africa that KCPS should have outed besides wars. Political maneuvering between South Africa and Zimbabwe resulted in Zimbabwean diamond dealers getting certification, even when it had been proved they were using child labor.
This year’s South African chair politely referred to the internal controversies by remarking about the pressure the industry has been under since the Great Global Recession.
A coalition of civil groups proved unsuccessful as the convention closed today in trying to make mandatory what remains of the voluntary KPCS certification. Shamiso Mtisi described the convention as moving “very slowly” on such long-time proposals as certifying not only sellers but miners as well.
A variety of other groups had difficulty even being heard. Accusations were levied at Venezuela and Lebanon that those governments were turning a blind eye to blood diamond trade, but the convention did nothing in response to these charges.
And surprise, the new chair of the convention is Chinese. They’ve done such a great job in stemming the ivory trade, which after the earlier West Africa wars succeeded the blood diamond industry as the principle financier for illicit African conflicts.
Blood diamonds seem to be on the comeback, and not because there are fewer conflicts in this post Recession world, but because there are fewer regulators of the capitalist system.