The Kimberly process: behind the veneer of transparency and ethics in diamond trade

NEWS.- After attending Angola’s certification scheme annual plenary in Luanda, Amnesty International declared that “Diamond companies must stop using the Kimberley Process to claim that their diamonds are free from human rights abuses and conflict” and revealed the reality behind diamond trading.


Inception of the process

The Kimberly Process was launched in 2000 in order to address the trade issue in ‘conflict diamonds' and to “ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violence by rebel movements and their allies seeking to undermine legitimate governments.” The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to foster the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds, known as Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS). This commitment imposes many legal obligations on participating states such as shipping certified ‘conflict-free' diamonds, which means controlling exports and imports at the border, as well as meeting the ‘minimum requirements' by implementing national legislations and effective institutions. This global agreement between governments, the international diamond industry and civil society organizations has, since then, constituted a milestone in the effort to assess the transparency and responsibility of natural resources trading. However, those “conflict-free” diamonds have not be freed from criticisms.

A certification cover

Already in 2014, the Guardian highlighted the flaws around the Kimberly process explaining that “while attitudes towards how gems are sourced have shifted, in practice little has changed in the jewellery industry.” The newspaper insisted that the certification focus is too restrictive because it only focuses on mining and distribution of conflict diamonds. This kind of certification does not take into account issues of worker exploitation – the health and safety of working conditions, the use of child labour and fair pay – as well as issues of traceability where consumers cannot identify the exact origin of the final product.  Moreover, the NGO Global Witness denounced the army’s control over the Marange diamond fields in Zimbabwe which had supposedly killed about 200 miners in the process during 2008. Thus, the withdrawal of several partner organizations like Global Witness weakened the credibility of the process by creating a “system propped up by the very people that profit from the industry maintaining its status quo.”

Resurgence of “blood diamonds” in Central African Republic

Leaning on these overwhelming facts, Amnesty International scrutinized mining activities which occurred during the unrest in the Central African Republic (CAR) those past years. In their report Chains of Abuse: The global diamond supply chain and the case of the Central African Republic released in September 2015, Amnesty unveiled how “CAR biggest traders have purchased diamonds worth several million dollars without adequately investigating whether they financed armed groups responsible for summary executions, rape, enforced disappearances and widespread looting“. This report is based on interviews with miners and traders and it sheds light on the practices of armed groups - the Christian or animist anti-balaka and predominantly Muslim Séléka – who have benefited “from the diamond trade by controlling mine sites and “taxing” or extorting “protection” money from miners and traders.”
“If companies have bought blood diamonds, they must not be allowed to profit from them,” said Lucy Graham, Legal Adviser in Amnesty International’s Business and Human Rights Team.

She added: “The government should confiscate any blood diamonds, sell them and use the money for the public benefit. The people of CAR have a right to profit from their own natural resources. As the country seeks to rebuild, it needs its diamonds to be a blessing, not a curse.” Indeed, this declaration now targets Sodiam, the biggest buyer of diamonds during the conflict, which is accused of purchasing diamonds that have financed the anti-balaka, and now has to prove the due diligence process along the supply chain.

A shared responsibility among trading states

Amnesty also alerts on negligence coming from the other side of the supply chain. The report also points out countries like Belgium and the United Arab Emirates who should be more concerned in monitoring and carrying due diligence in the light of human rights abuses, smuggling and tax dodging throughout the diamond supply chain. The report finally puts pressure on the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s biggest diamond trading centers and the next Chair at the Kimberley Process on 1 January 2016, to actively change its trading patterns at the Dubai's Tax Free Zone by ensuring decent revenues for developing countries.

Céline Krebs
Project coordinator


Website of the Kimberly process. About the Kimberly Process. Checked on 19 November 2015.
Amnesty International. CAR: Companies must not profit from blood diamonds.  Published on 30 September.

Amnesty International. Time for diamond companies to stop hiding behind Kimberley Process. Published on 16 November 2015.

D. Rhode. The Kimberley Process is a 'perfect cover story' for blood diamonds. The Guardian. Published on 24 March 2014.