Professional Jeweler Archive: Conflict Diamonds: The Moral Issues

July 2000


Conflict Diamonds: The Moral Issues

Can American jewelers remain moral members of the world community and still sell diamonds in light of mounting evidence rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone have sold diamonds to fund decades-long wars? Wars in which atrocities against civilians, especially children, are a key element?

I believe the answer is yes, if the international diamond industry continues its new crusade to ensure very few diamonds get into the marketplace from illegal and destructive African sources.

Human rights groups have been trying for years to draw the world’s attention to the long-suffering people of Angola, Sierra Leone and other conflict zones. They are justifiably angry some sectors of the secretive diamond industry enabled the flow of conflict diamonds to fund these wars, and they want the world to know it. But the more level-headed among them know it’s best to look to the future and be optimistic now that the diamond industry is finally stepping in to stem the tide.

Additionally, the United Nations and governments in the U.S., Canada, Belgium and England – after years of ignoring or contributing to the problem – are focusing on solutions. In Congressional hearings in May, De Beers, Eli Haas of the Diamond Dealers Club of New York City, the human rights group Global Witness and others testified how far the diamond industry and western governments have come. De Beers, for example, revealed it has offered its considerable expertise in identifying the source of rough diamonds to importing countries to help catch suspect diamonds. De Beers also agreed to a U.S. State Department request to send an expert to Sierra Leone – after a 15-year absence – to advise the government on how to derive benefits from diamonds.

All the testimony suggested solutions the diamond industry will take up at the World Federation of Diamond Bourses meeting this month in Antwerp, Belgium. Among them is harsh banishment from the diamond industry for any dealer found trading in conflict stones.

Just a few days after the Congressional hearings, diamond-producing nations in southern Africa met to discuss the conflict-diamond crisis taking place to the north. While deploring the nefarious uses of diamonds, speakers made it clear jewelers must support the positive role diamonds play in Africa’s future. “We at the southern tip of this continent are heavily reliant on our diamonds for the tax receipts, foreign exchange revenue and other economic benefits vital to our continuing development as vibrant democracies,” said Inge Zaamwani, managing director of Namdeb Diamond Corp. in Namibia.

For jewelers, the moral path is clear:

  • Insist suppliers give you written assurances their diamonds come from legitimate sources and support all efforts to make this possible.
  • Tell concerned consumers what the industry is doing to halt the sale of conflict diamonds and point out the positive force diamonds have been in other parts of Africa.
  • Donate to a cause I’ve recently learned about. The Leonenet Street Children Project (326 Timothy Way, Richmond, KY 40475) is raising money to give foster parents in Sierra Leone the means to take in orphans, many of whom have lost limbs due to the butchery of the rebel forces.

American jewelers may not be to blame for the atrocities. But they can help to ensure the next generation grows up safe, while the adults rebuild the country so its diamond resources can be used for good purposes.

– by Peggy Jo Donahue

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications