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Zimbabwe and the Kimberley Process: Just how effective are Multi-stakeholder Initiatives?

Published on November 24, 2009        Author: 

Lucy Koechlin is a member of the Institute of Sociology/Centre of African Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland

Just a couple of weeks ago, against the explicit recommendations by its own review mission, the annual plenary of the Kimberley Process decided against suspending Zimbabwe as a member – in spite of documented violations of its minimal criteria, including the involvement of the government of Zimbabwe in illicit diamond trading and systematic human rights abuses in the diamond mine of Marange.

Not surprisingly, NGOs have sharply criticised the decision. According to a recent press release by Global Witness, the

“failure to suspend Zimbabwe points to fundamental weaknesses in the scheme’s procedures and to a serious lack of political will to take decisive action when countries are not implementing minimum standards. …  This undermines the scheme’s effectiveness and compromises those participants who implement the system in good faith. It also sends the message that there will be no serious consequences for those who break the rules.”

This incident is highly illustrative of several key questions surrounding the effectiveness and credibility of Multistakeholder Initiatives (MSI) in general. MSI are particularly suited to addressing complex governance issues that involve national and international actors across all sectors. Next to the Extractive Industry’s Transparency Initiative (EITI), the Kimberley Process may be the most well known of such international initiatives. Strictly speaking, the Kimberley Process is an intergovernmental initiative, as full participation can only be granted to states or regional governmental organisations (such as the EU). However, to all intents and purposes, the Kimberley Process is a classic multistakeholder initiative, with substantial influence and participation from both the diamond industry as well as international civil society. Indeed, the initiative itself emerged in the wake of influential reports by Global Witness and other international NGOs pinpointing the role of so-called ‘blood diamonds’ that fuelled violent conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo. The increased sensitisation led both the diamond industry as well as producing and trading countries to address the root causes of the illicit trading of rough diamonds. In November 2000, realising that the problem cannot be tackled by a single actor, concerned governments, companies and NGOs brought the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) to life. The objective of this voluntary, self-regulatory initiative is to flag the origins of internationally traded diamonds, to prevent the illicit mining and trading of rough diamonds, and thus to cut off illicit proceeds flowing into the financing of rebel groups.

 Given the complexities surrounding the mining and trading of rough diamonds, the Kimberley Process has accomplished much. Firstly, it has defined import/export control regimes for governments as well as control systems governing the private sector. Secondly, today, not least due to a unique diamond data base, it is possible to trace the trail of rough diamonds from mine to polished form. And most pertinently, thirdly, as a result of the KPCS only certified diamonds are permitted to enter international markets. Looking at the different governance functions that such MSI can fulfil (see Koechlin/Calland 2009), the KPCS ticks many boxes: in terms of moral standards, its very existence signifies a public acknowledgment that governments and the private sector bear an ethical responsibility with regard to the revenues of diamond trading. On a more practical level, the KPCS has provided a platform for dialogue and engagement amongst very different stakeholders; it has effectively set direly needed standards in a messy and unregulated area; it is supporting capacity-building of members with regard to the required control systems; and lastly, through ongoing peer reviews and regular meetings by the Plenary and Working Groups, best practices amongst members and knowledge exchange across sectors is encouraged.

So far so good. But the main problem facing multi-stakeholder initiatives is that they lack teeth. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Human Rights
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