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14 september 2020

edward_asscher_xx.pngA member of one of the diamond industry and Amsterdam’s most well-known families, Edward Asscher was elected President of the World Diamond Council in June 2020 for a two-year term. Asscher is serving a second time as WDC President, having led the organization from 2014 to 2016.

Currently, he is also the Vice President of the European Council of Diamond Manufacturers. He is the past President of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association (IDMA) and the International Diamond Council (IDC), a diamond standards-setting organization affiliated to IDMA and the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB).

Asscher has also served in other functions outside of the diamond industry. A past president of the Liberal Party in Amsterdam, he was elected Senator of this party in the Dutch parliament, serving in the upper house from 2007 to 2011.

Here, in an Interview with ROUGH & POLISHED, Edward Asscher speaks at length about WDC’s efforts towards finding solutions for the many issues in the global diamond industry …

Some excerpts:

To date, no progress seems to have been made in WDC’s and the Civil Society Coalition’s (CSC) efforts to expand the definition of “conflict diamonds.” How may WDC strategy be affected moving on?

While we certainly are disappointed that the conflict diamond definition could not be expanded during the last KP Review cycle, I think it would be wrong to concentrate all of our success on the definition, to the exclusion of everything else we have achieved.

The Kimberley Process is a massive enterprise, and much of the work that is done, month in and month out, is of tremendous importance to the industry and the participating countries. So, since the change of the definition continues to be on the agenda of the KP Chair, we shall continue to work towards including universal human rights principles within it, but at the same time, we need to work on other topics, among them the introduction in the KP of the Sustainable Development Goals as formulated by the United Nations.

In short, we are not sitting about idly, waiting for the conflict diamond definition to come up again within the KP. By actively supporting initiatives, from mine to retail, we are effectively circumventing disagreement over the definition by continuously striving for more transparency and support, especially for the artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM).

How does WDC plan to broach the topic this time with Russia as Chair of KP?

As things are, because of the COVID-19 situation, the political process within the KP has been put on the back burner. It was decided that through the end of 2020 the Russian Federation will be the caretaker of the Kimberley Process, and next year will be the Chair. This gives us time to consider all options regarding the definition. In the meantime, we are actively engaging in new and independent projects.

The Kimberley Process has lately been more protective concerning artisanal and small-scale diamond miners trying to bring them into the legal diamond market. What are the ways to do this in your view?

There is so much more to do in this respect, and indeed we and our members are already active. We are building the capacity of alluvial diamond miners by providing training in rough valuation and educating them about diamond qualities and the pricing of rough diamonds.

Various WDC members have developed their capacity building initiatives, supporting the SDGs. These include the Antwerp World Diamond Center with Origuinée in Guinea; De Beers with Gemfair in Sierra Leone; ALROSA’s social responsibility initiative “Diamonds that Care”; Signet, the world’s largest diamond jewelry retailer with their Responsible Sourcing Protocol, and other private initiatives.

What steps are being taken to make KP initiatives more result-oriented and effective, and how may the WDC act to support them?

Right now, we need to fixate less on the political aspects of the KP and concentrate more on the positive aspects of the KP Certification Scheme, such as the Regional Approach that aims to implement Minimum KP Requirements via cooperation between countries, and also raise awareness of the OECD Due Diligence Guidelines.

These processes are complemented by initiatives like GemFair in Sierra Leone, where large mining companies are assisting capacity building by developing and providing advanced technologies that support artisanal miners in the field, ensuring that Minimum KP Requirements are met and at the same time providing them access to the distribution chain at fair market value.

WDC’s System of Warranties is widely used in the industry to extend the effectiveness of the Kimberley Process from rough diamonds through the distribution chain, including loose polished diamonds in the midstream and finished jewellery at retail. You are in the process of upgrading the system. Where do things stand?

The new System of Warranties, which is a revision of the SoW introduced 18 years ago, empowers private companies in their efforts to practice proper Corporate Social Responsibility, meet KP standards and strengthen the business practices with regards to human and labor rights, AML/CT and Anti-Corruption.

Once it will be officially launched, it will be made available to all diamond companies, assisting them to assess and report on their practices and look at the standards of companies with whom they do business.

You talk about fixating less on the political aspects of the KP and more on the results it achieves. How in practice is WDC working with governments and civil society both to prevent the trade in conflict diamonds and to improve the situation on the ground in affected areas?

As we all know Kimberley Process Certification System (KPCS) has been a great success. This is due to the close cooperation of governments in the KP and the Observers, which include the diamond industry itself and the civil society Non-Governmental Organizations, which play an important role. We intend to continue fostering close relations with the Civil Society as we have many shared goals concerning artisanal mining and responsible business practices.

WDC is heavily involved in the Kimberley Process Monitoring Team, which supervises KP-certified exports from the Central African Republic (CAR). The country is allowed to export rough diamonds from several authorized “green” zones, which are under the control of the government. Other parts of the country are experiencing civil unrest, instigated by armed groups. We are closely monitoring the situation and considering its effects on exports. As it has transpired, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis the airport in Bangui has been closed for a long time and very few exports have recorded thus far this year.

Great efforts to support CAR have been made and are still needed from donor countries like United States, Canada and members of the European Union; and African countries, including South Africa but especially the neighboring nations. Helping solve the CAR conflict and mitigating its effects on the CAR diamond trade is one of the major issues that will face the KP in the coming years.

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished