Diamond industry fails to clean up its act, say campaigners

By agency reporter
November 15, 2018

The diamond industry must deliver on its promise that consumers can trust the diamonds they purchase are sourced, traded, and processed responsibly, says a coalition of concerned civil society organisations.

“Time is up for the diamond industry. Image is everything to the value of diamonds, yet the industry continues to be tainted by association with human rights abuses like child labour and forced labour, as well as conflict, environmental damage, and corruption. If the diamond industry genuinely wants to address these issues, it needs to clean-up its act and no longer approach respect for human rights and responsible business as an optional exercise”, said Joanne Lebert, Executive Director of IMPACT.

The appeal comes as members of the international community gather in Brussels for the Kimberley Process Plenary – the initiative through which participating governments certify rough diamonds as conflict-free, using a narrow definition of diamonds that have been used by rebel groups to finance their activities. The diamond industry is represented in the Kimberley Process by the World Diamond Council (WDC), an umbrella group for the world’s largest diamond producers, jewellers, and exchanges.

The WDC announced on October 25 2018 that its members had passed proposed reforms to its flagship self-regulation instrument, known as the System of Warranties. Through the new System of Warranties Guidelines, the diamond industry claims to provide assurances to consumers beyond the Kimberley Process certificate that their diamonds have been sourced, processed and traded responsibly. However, despite the reforms, the System of Warranties still falls far short of international standards for responsible company behaviour – including by stating that respect for human rights by companies is “voluntary.”

“This so-called upgrade by the WDC to its self-regulation guidelines appears to be more of a token attempt to appease criticism of the diamond industry’s failings than a real step towards ensuring that the diamond trade does not continue to fuel human rights abuses. We’re calling on companies to acknowledge and act on their individual responsibility to tackle the trade in diamonds associated with harms”, said Sophia Pickles, Campaign Leader at Global Witness.

Companies in the diamond industry are individually responsible for carrying out steps to respect human rights in their supply chains, in line with established international standards on business and human rights including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.

Under these standards, companies have a responsibility to identify human rights risks, take action to prevent or mitigate those risks and account for their human rights impacts. To be credible and legitimate, any industry scheme in the minerals sector – like the WDC’s System of Warranties– must align with the globally-endorsed standards and ensure that respect for human rights is integrated throughout the full supply chain. However, despite the existence of these standards for responsible company behavior, which if implemented in full would fill the gaps in human rights responsibilities under the Kimberley Process, the diamond industry itself has persistently failed to take meaningful measures to clean up the diamond trade.

While the revised System of Warranties Guidelines refer to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD standard for responsible sourcing and trading of minerals, members are only “encouraged” to avoid causing or contributing to abuses, to “reject” the worst forms of child labour, and to “educate themselves on” rather than implement the OECD standard. A WDC “Explanatory Paper” on the reforms clearly states that “Human and Labour Rights Issues” are “Voluntary.”

“The diamond industry may have once been seen as leaders on the international stage, tackling issues of conflict-affected diamond supply chains by supporting the establishment of the Kimberley Process. But now they are failing to catch up with international standards for responsible business practices, despite myriad opportunities for reform over the last ten years. The international position is clear – respecting human rights is not optional for companies. The WDC must require its members to act in line with international standards,” said Lucy Graham, Researcher at Amnesty International.

“Instead of providing an assurance that diamonds are being sourced responsibly in line with international standards, these revised Guidelines will leave individuals and communities at very real risk of exploitation and other serious harms, and will leave consumers with a false sense of assurance that their jewellery has not contributed to those abuses. This is far from the best that the diamond industry can do”, said Brad Brooks-Rubin, Managing Director of The Enough Project and The Sentry.

When faced with the opportunity for reforms, the diamond industry is evading the responsibilities it has to diamond-producing and diamond-manufacturing communities – and to all who buy its diamonds. This is not delivering on the WDC’s promise that consumers “can trust the diamonds they purchase to have been source[d] responsibly and ethically.”

“If this claim is to have any credence and go beyond pure lip service, the diamond industry must urgently take meaningful measures to bring itself into line with international standards”, said Juliane Kippenberg from Human Rights Watch. 

Campaigners say the Kimberley Process’s narrow definition of a conflict diamond is one of the major loopholes of the certification scheme, meaning that it does not address the much broader range of human rights concerns that continue to be associated with the diamond supply chain.

* Global Witness https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/

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