Conflict Diamond Update
Congressional hearings, international meetings, demonstrations and more bad publicity fill a busy autumn for industry members fighting conflict diamonds
The World Diamond Congress, the organization formed to fight the sale of conflict diamonds, held its first meeting Sept. 7 in Tel Aviv, Israel. WDC is an an outgrowth of resolutions passed in July at the World Diamond Congress in Antwerp, Belgium (Professional Jeweler, September 2000, p. 23).
WDC consists of the leaders of all major diamond manufacturing and trading institutions in the world, all major diamond producers and government officials from various nations. Matthew Runci, president and CEO of Jewelers of America, is WDC's executive director. Eli Izhakoff, former chairman of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses, is chairman.
Members acted quickly to begin formulating a plan for an international certification system proposed in Antwerp to track rough diamonds and weed out conflict stones.
Just one week after that meeting, the U.S. House of Representatives' Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade began hearings on African diamonds. That was one day after U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) introduced the latest version of his CARAT Act bill, H.R. 5147, which calls for a ban on conflict diamond imports.
Runci; William Boyajian, president of the Gemological Institute of America; and Jeffrey Fischer, president of the Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association of America, testified at the hearing about WDC efforts. They asked the subcommittee to delay a vote on Hall's bill until certification is in place so U.S. law coordinates with the worldwide program.
Hall argued that a provision of his bill would allow the government to delay the ban for one year, pending completion of the international program. But the subcommittee delayed its vote anyway.
Meanwhile, Global Witness activist Alex Yearsley said human-rights groups are monitoring the international certification process and will hold the industry and cooperating governments to a deadline of early 2001 before activating a publicity campaign to force swifter completion of controls.
Just days before the Congressional hearings, JA unveiled a conflict diamond education and training program for retail jewelers at The Professional Jeweler Show & Conference in Las Vegas, NV. JA Education Director David Peters demonstrated the program to a large group of concerned retailers. The program consists of role-playing, a self-study guide and a store meeting guide. It's designed to help sales associates answer consumers' questions during this holiday season. For a copy, call JA at (800) 223-0673.
On Oct. 7, Sierra Leoneans who had suffered maiming and amputations by rebels controlling diamond fields took to the streets of New York City to demonstrate against diamonds' role in their war. They were joined by human-rights groups representing Sierra Leone, Amnesty International and others.
Hall was there as well, complaining about his failed efforts in Congress and demanding that consumers get a clear answer as to where their diamonds originated before buying. But until a certification program is in place, it's impossible to guarantee diamonds are conflict-free all diamonds have been intermingled for years and their origin can't be ascertained gemologically.
Publicity about human-rights abuses in conflict-diamond countries continues, especially regarding Sierra Leone. A second story on the embattled country appeared in the October issue of Vanity Fair, often a showcase of glittering jewelry ads. Graphic photos of victims of rebels underlined the inescapable fact that diamonds are the cause of conflict.
On Oct. 12, ABC's "Primetime" news magazine aired a show on the same topic. The report failed to mention WDC's efforts to put the certification program into place or that worldwide condemnation had already slowed the trade in diamonds there.
International Government Efforts
The governments of diamond-mining and -cutting countries met several times this fall. At the end of a three-day meeting in South Africa in late September, representatives of diamond exporting, processing and importing nations agreed to an international certificate-of-origin plan. They agreed to cosponsor a resolution to be presented to the United Nations.
Representatives of 36 countries met in London in late October and also endorsed the certification program. Just days before, WDC released a first draft of the certification program's technical details to the U.S. jewelry trade press, though it asked reporters not to release details until it was legally vetted.
WDC also is working on model legislation that consuming countries such as the U.S. could put in place to coordinate with the certification program.
For more information on conflict diamond events and breaking news, visit www.professionaljeweler.com and click on the Conflict Diamond Archive.
Peggy Jo Donahue