A conflict-diamonds panel at the JCK Show proposes solutions to a thorny issue
Representatives of the federal government, human rights groups and the diamond and jewelry industries met during the JCK Show in June to discuss the illegal sale of diamonds to fund rebel atrocities in certain African countries.
The discussion was chaired by Cecilia Gardner, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee and a member of an industry group that has been meeting on the issue since last year.
Human Rights View
Charmian Gooch, a representative of Global Witness, the human rights group that first brought the issue to international attention, said initial behind-the-scenes efforts to involve the diamond industry were largely unsuccessful. That changed following threats of a consumer-press-awareness campaign in October 1999. Since then, the diamond industry has taken major steps to control the sale of conflict diamonds, she said. Global Witness estimates conflict diamonds escaping troubled countries have decreased from 15% to 8% of world supply by value. De Beers disputes both figures, estimating a reduction from 8% to 4%.
Despite the reduction, Gooch expressed frustration rebels in Sierra Leone still find people willing to buy their diamonds. The whole diamond pipeline continues to have a devastating effect on Africa, she said.
Diamond Industry Response
Two industry leaders said a proposal to resolve the problem of continued leakage of tainted diamonds would be presented at the World Federation of Diamond Bourses Congress in July. Eli Haas, vice president of the WFDB, and Jeffrey Fischer, vice president of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association, said their communities would vote on proposals to expose, ostracize and punish any member found to be buying conflict diamonds.
Both representatives also stressed other solutions that would hold conflict countries more accountable for certifying the legitimacy of their diamonds.
U.S. Government Action
Polly Byers, an expert on African and humanitarian issues with the U.S. State Department, cautioned that because of badly guarded borders and ill-equipped or corrupt governments, its unrealistic to expect every conflict diamond can be caught. She did reveal U.S. efforts to help rebuild Sierra Leone and help the country to manage its wealth of natural resources. However, warlike conditions have stopped this effort temporarily.
System of Transparency
- Byers and Fischer referred to a working draft of recommendations developed at a conference of southern African diamond-producing nations in May. The conference appointed a working group of government officials, industry members and civil society organizations to develop resolutions to be presented to the United Nations, the G-8 nations, the World Trade Organization and diamond industry groups. They include:
- A global system of transparency under which no country would permit the import of rough gem diamonds unless accompanied by a forgery-proof certificate of legitimacy that meets international standards. Only diamonds mined lawfully would be exported, and the legitimate miners would have to keep records that could be reviewed by internationally approved authorities. Importing countries would reject all parcels unless exported in tamper-proof packaging from a mutually notified exit site to a mutually notified import site. The importing country would inspect and recertify the diamonds.
- A diamond code in each major diamond producing, processing or consuming country that would punish anyone who knowingly trades, transports or processes illicit diamonds or provides credit or insurance to anyone who does. Recovered diamonds would be forfeited to the state.
- A new International Diamond Ethical Standards Committee that would include representatives of each major segment and geographical sector of the industry, empowered to approve revisions in certificates of legitimacy and provide technical and financial assistance to governments that need help meeting certification standards. The committee would publish periodic reports on diamond production, imports and exports, and would evaluate discrepancies and report violations within the system.
U.S. Calls on De Beers for its Expertise
Joan Parker of the Diamond Information Center, which publicizes diamonds in the U.S. on behalf of De Beers, distributed copies of testimony De Beers submitted to hearings on conflict diamonds in the U.S. Congress. The document reveals that De Beers expertise is being called on to help importing countries better recognize the origin of many gem diamonds and reject those suspected of coming from rebel hands.
The U.S. government also has asked De Beers to return to Sierra Leone, after a 15-year absence, to help the country learn how to benefit from its diamond resources.
David Rocha, senior vice president of Jewelers of America, announced JA created a document retailers can ask suppliers to sign guaranteeing their diamonds dont come from conflict zones. JA also prepared a public statement retailers can use to explain they dont handle conflict diamonds. JA, New York City; (800) 223-0673 or (212) 768-8777, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Editors Note: After the conflict diamond panel, De Beers, the Israel Diamond Exchange and Global Witness issued reports calling on the world diamond community and involved governments to adopt policies such as those outlined here (see www.professionaljeweler.com, click on Daily News Archive for June 13, 14 and 21, 2000). A full report on the WFDB Congress will appear in the September issue.]
by Peggy Jo Donahue