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January 2000


Angola Agony

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 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.


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