The day that changed
the trajectory of our year

Dear colleagues and friends,

A little more than one year ago, on February 24, I and members of the WDC Board of Directors were in Dubai, where we had scheduled our first face-to-face meeting since the start of the COVID crisis. We also planned to attend the diamond conference taking place in the city at the time. So it was that we were together when we heard the distressing news about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Like so many others, while I was of course aware of the warnings that an invasion was imminent, I had somehow felt that it would not take place, largely because it did not seem to make sense – politically, economically or strategically. But I was certainly unprepared for the ferocity of the fighting, and the distressing loss of life and injury suffered by innocent civilians, not to mention damage to infrastructure and quality of life.

For those of us who have spent the past 20 years trying to alleviate the effects of bloody conflicts, as well as to prevent them from happening, the outbreak of war in Europe, ghastly revealed to us in real time, brought home what others suffered for so many years in Africa, frequently beyond the view of cameras.

That day in Dubai, we intuitively understood that the trajectory of our year had changed completely. We also understood that the war in Ukraine would impact on deliberations in the Kimberley Process, just as we appreciated that the KP would have difficulty in articulating a coherent position. The shortfall we had long spoken about in the “conflict diamond” definition was crystal clear, as was the urgency of addressing that issue during the Review and Reform Cycle set to begin in 2023.

The war in Ukraine in many ways defined my final year as President of WDC, a term that will end in May. It brought home the limitations of a system like the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, just as it emphasized the importance of enforcing and strengthening the KPCS when it is applicable, and where it is able to protect and improve the lives and livelihoods of people in conflict zones.

The regulation of the diamond trade, when managed through the KPCS, is only effective to the degree by which governments are ready and able to do their duty. The KP is not a monolithic body, but rather a loose union of nations, which implement the system according to the laws that each has legislated, and enforce with the resources it is able and prepared to expend. Where the KP forum has been effective, although certainly not perfect, is creating common principles around which all Participant members have been able to coalesce.

The WDC has worked hard, in public and in bilateral discussions with KP Participants, with our goal being that those common principles be further refined, so that they align with essential human rights, as they are articulated by the United Nations – and as our consumers increasingly expect. The level to which we have been effective is set by the degree to which discussions in the KP translate into actual policies and actions at the national level. Consequently, our advice to members of the industry always been that, at the very least, they must always apply the law of the land.

The war in Ukraine created an unprecedented dilemma. While one of the combatants was a major rough diamond producer, it was difficult to claim that diamonds played a direct role in the conflict, or in any real way would influence its outcome. Furthermore, given its consensus decision-making system, it was clear that the KP would not be able to reach a decision about its role in the crisis. Indeed, we discovered that, within the KP, it even would be exceedingly difficult to discuss the war and its impacts.

But while the KP was indecisive, others were not. Within just weeks after the invasion, multiple sanctions regimes were being put into place, by different countries and with different areas of focus. And because distribution chains are almost inevitably multinational, sanctions imposed in one country would often impact on the way one could do business in another.

WDC’s advice to the industry remained consistent. At the barest of minimums, one must apply the sanctions being applied in the countries in which you are operating, according to the letter of the law. We understood that these laws or regulations were not always consistent with each other, but we urged our colleagues to appreciate that a more relaxed approach in one jurisdiction may not be considered acceptable in another.

In many forums that I have participated in over the past year, I have explained that the WDC is an association that represents the members of the diamond industry around the world by concentrating exclusively on business-related issues, where have a modicum of control and influence. Our integrity within the KP, and by consequence our ability to sway outcomes, is entirely dependent to present ourselves as an honest broker.

But the WDC is certainly not morally apathetic or even agnostic. I speak not only for myself when I say that it’s impossible not to be moved by the terrible human tragedy being played out each day in Ukraine, and how one reacts is largely a matter of personal choice or discretion. But the minimum standard always is meeting the legal requirements in the countries in which you operate. You also need to do due diligence, monitoring your own distribution channels, including implementation of the revised WDC System of Warranties.

It would have been preferable had there been a clear, international standard according to which we all would abide. But this is not the case at present, certainly where goods fall outside the current “conflict diamonds” definition. Hopefully, with the KP’s Review and Reform cycle now underway, progress will be made in expanding its scope, so that, as we did 20 years ago in West and Central Africa, we will be able to address all relevant humanitarian crises with a single voice.

Edward Asscher
WDC President

From the series