U.S. Dept. of State Advisor on Conflict Diamonds Leaves Agency. What's Next?

03/02/2017 13:08

Award-winning journalist Rob Bates raises some highly relevant issues in the wake of the announcement by Ashley Orbach - U.S. Department of State’s special advisor for conflict diamonds for the last three years - that she will be leaving the agency and her role as advisor. There was always going to be a sense of uncertainty concerning the U.S. stance toward the Kimberley Process and human rights in the mining industry under the unpredictable new administration, and the loss of continuity signalled by Orbach's departure may well add to it. Bates writes: "With new leadership coming to the State Department, it remains to be seen whether the United States will continue its strong advocacy regarding the Kimberley Process and related issues. New secretary of state Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon Mobil, will likely have different opinions on the regulation of mining than his predecessors (if he gets that granular). In addition, the president has expressed hostility to international agreements, though the Clean Diamond Trade Act, which codifies the Kimberley Process, is currently law."

"That said," he continues, "if, as reported, the State Department does refocus on fighting terrorism, it might look more at terrorist financing, and getting better control of diamonds does fall into that. According to people involved in the early days of Kimberley Process, the Bush administration became a lot more interested in the KP after Sept. 11. But the United States will likely be less outspoken on human rights and development issues than it has been in the past." Bates quotes a former U.S. government official as saying, "“I think it is safe to say that the new administration will not have the same backing for human rights in business that the prior administration had, but it’s impossible to tell.”

Cecilia Gardner, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee and still the director and council for the US Kimberley Process Authority, told Bates it was a hot topic in the jewelry industry, but Gardner suggests that responsible sourcing is now so engrained in mining practices that government policy may not have a significant effect. “At this point, we don’t know what the government will do,” she says. “But talking with these professionals in the government, they all say the same thing: The ship has sailed. The idea of responsible sourcing, or protecting the environment, of caring for the local community, is now embedded in the ethos of these mining companies. It’s in their own self-interest, and they get that.” Bates points out that relevant NGOs will be meeting in NYC to plot their way forward.