Global human rights organizations, led by an English group
called Global Witness, launched a sensational campaign in the
fall to inform the press and consumers that diamonds Americans
buy may help fund wars in Angola and other unstable African countries.
Horrific civilian casualties in those countries have shocked
the world. Newspapers across the U.S. quickly picked up the story
(see www.professionaljeweler.com for background and breaking
news). These conflicts are a long way from your store, but their
connections to diamonds could quickly cause problems with customers
trying to buy merchandise produced with a conscience.
For years, diamond-buying companies have tried to avoid buying
diamonds from outlaw groups that sell to fund mayhem. Recently,
De Beers suspended buying operations in Angola altogether when
it became clear even government-sold diamonds might be suspect.
Nevertheless, the United Nations and the U.S. government have
sent a clear message to the diamond industry. They don't think
the industry is doing enough to prevent diamonds from affected
countries from reaching consumers.
As ethicist Rushworth Kidder pointed out at the Gemological
Institute of America's 1999 International Gemological Symposium,
when governments perceive industries aren't policing themselves,
they'll jump in with proposals for laws to do the job. That's
what happened here. Rep. Tony Hall, D-OH, introduced a bill in
Congress (H.R. 3188) on Nov. 1 that, if passed into law, would
require diamond importers to produce a country-of-origin certificate
for every diamond worth more than $100 retail, to give consumers
a chance not to buy "conflict diamonds."
A contingent of industry leaders including representatives
of Jewelers of America, GIA and the Diamond Dealers Club
went to Washington, DC, before Thanksgiving to talk with officials
of the U.S. State Department, Congress and other government agencies.
They explained why this solution may not work because of the
difficulty in confirming diamond origin and the ease with which
conflict diamonds can be smuggled across borders and sold with
counterfeit certificates of origin. The meeting was cordial and
opened a dialogue about other ways to stop such diamond sales,
according to sources there.
What's a jeweler to do? Rather than engage in political debates
with concerned customers which you have almost no hope
of winning you may want to forcefully support all efforts
to stop the sale of conflict diamonds. State that to the best
of your ability, you avoid buying diamonds from any importer
who would buy from the nations at issue (such as Angola, Sierra
Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo). Mention
that representatives of your industry are working with U.S. officials
to find other ways to fight the problem.
Remind consumers 90% of the world's diamonds are mined outside
of African conflict zones and that diamonds have been a much
greater force for good than evil in other parts of Africa. For
example, countries such as Botswana and Namibia depend greatly
on revenue from diamond mining to help maintain stable economies.
A boycott of all diamonds would jeopardize the health of Africa.
Stay calm. The jewelry industry is doing the right things to
stop human rights abuses.
by Peggy Jo Donahue
Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.