By Michelle Graff

A number of interesting points came up last Thursday in Las Vegas during a Kimberley Process (KP) panel held at the JCK show. I just wish there had been more people there to hear them.

To open the meeting, World Diamond Council President Eli Izhakoff told attendees that he believes the KP soon will be able to come to an agreement over exports from Zimbabwe. (The KP’s Working Group on Monitoring approved exports from the country based on a number of conditions at a meeting held recently in Dubai. Zimbabwe rejected those conditions but the stalemate is expected to be resolved -- and exports allowed to continue -- at a KP meeting scheduled for later this month.)

During the discussion, Izhakoff raised the need for KP reforms, namely to establish some kind of permanent staff for the system and change the voting structure. Currently, the KP’s bylaws dictate that complete consensus is needed to move forward on any issue. Izhakoff said the system needs to be changed to allow a supermajority vote (a vote that exceeds a simple majority, which is more than 50 percent) to be enough for issues to be approved.

To me, the whole voting system issue is a giant Catch-22.

How are you going to get everybody to vote for switching the voting system when the center of your argument is that the KP has a difficult time moving forward on issues for that same reason: that it can’t get everybody on the same page? Perhaps some parties at all times--or maybe we should say all parties at some times--view complete consensus as working in their favor. They don’t like a proposal or issue and all they have to do is raise their hand and say “no.” It takes only one vote to throw a wrench into the entire system.

It seems to me that if those involved in the KP believed that they could reach a consensus on the voting issue, which has been afoot for some time now, then the issue would have been solved long ago.

Outside of Izhakoff, Brad Brooks-Rubin, the special advisor on conflict diamonds to the U.S. State Department, raised an interesting possibility when he mentioned that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which already contains a section addressing the issue of “conflict” minerals, could be expanded to include diamonds. He also noted that if the KP did break down, the U.S. government would remain vigilant about conflict diamonds.

“If the KP falls apart Congress won’t simply repeal the Clean Diamond Trade Act and say, ‘That was a nice experiment. Let’s go back to the way things were,’” he said.

Susan Jacques, a Zimbabwe native and the president and CEO of Borsheims, added frank insight from the retail perspective when she detailed how she called her suppliers and told them Borsheims wouldn’t be dealing in any diamonds from Zimbabwe. She said the suppliers told her that she was unfamiliar with how the supply chain works and that it was going to be nearly impossible to guarantee that because of the lack of traceability.

Her response to them: Change the system.

“I cannot control what the government of my homeland does,” she said. “Can I control that I don’t want those goods in my store? Yes I can.”

(It’s probably worth noting here that Borsheims is one of a handful of retailers already involved in De Beers’ branded diamond program, the Forevermark. One of the main highlights of the program is that De Beers can essentially trace the stones from its mines to market and guarantee they are conflict-free.)

The one bright spot on the panel were the comments of Diamond Empowerment Fund board co-president Dr. Benjamin Chavis, who said that activist and former President of South African Nelson Mandela is firm believer in the mission of the KP.

Chavis also cited a report that came out last month detailing the strongest economies in Africa. The nations topping the list were those that produce diamonds, he said.

“When a consumer buys diamonds they should also know they are buying diamonds that help empower African nations, and that message sometimes gets lost,” he said. “The issue is not whether or not we need the Kimberley Process but how to strengthen it.”

Looking around the room during Thursday’s discussion, I was pleased—and at the same time dismayed—that I recognized many of the faces. I saw a number of my fellow industry trade journalists, representatives from groups such as the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) and diamond dealers I know from 47th Street, among others.

With the room only about half-full, and many of the attendees immediately recognizable to me, I had to wonder: How many retailers actually attended this session? And, if they didn’t come because they were busy with other appointments or simply don’t think it’s a big issue for their store, how many will read this blog?

On May 24, I blogged about the Forevermark. At the conclusion of the piece, I asked retailers for feedback on how important they felt the issue of the KP and conflict-free diamonds were to their customers. I received only one comment. And stories about Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe or the Kimberley Process rarely show up as the “Most Popular” or “Most E-mailed” on NJ’s site.

I’ll be curious to see if this blog is any different.

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