Conflict Diamond Crisis: Mr. & Ms. Jeweler Go to Washington
About 160 jewelers representing every state flooded U.S. Senate and House offices in Washington, DC, in February as part of Jewelers of Americas effort to introduce conflict diamond legislation. The proposed bill was crafted by the World Diamond Council, of which JA is a member. It advocates U.S. cooperation on an international certificate-of-origin program designed to end the trade in conflict diamonds. The bill also mandates a ban on diamonds from any country failing to cooperate with the certification program.
Jewelers fielded questions from congressional leaders as to how this bill differs from one U.S. Rep. Tony Hall (D-OH) was scheduled to introduce in March. Though the two proposals appear similar (see p. 23), jewelers told legislators the WDC bill is in harmony with the international certification program in development by the Working Group on African Diamonds. That effort is due to be completed by the end of 2001 and is backed by each country that produces, processes or imports diamonds, all of whom must cooperate for the international certification program to work. The WDC bill also has been coordinated with U.S. Customs Service practices and United Nations principles, which would make it easier to enforce.
Matthew Runci, president of JA and executive director of WDC, was hopeful the congressional visits would interest legislators in becoming sponsors of the WDC bill. This is a necessary step to introduce any proposal into the U.S. Congress.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Amnesty Internationals campaign to bring conflict diamonds to consumers attention (see p. 23), almost 80 human rights groups sent an open letter to JA and WDC reprimanding the international diamond industry for not adequately policing dealers who continue to buy diamonds from Sierra Leone and other conflict areas. The letter also criticizes the Working Group on African Diamonds, saying its too slow in completing its certification program. The group urges retailers to support Halls bill, saying that until the U.S. bans conflict diamonds, the rest of the world will continue to move slowly.
While one could argue the fine points that separate the Hall and WDC bills, the issue of which one is better has all the earmarks of a tempest in a teapot because theyre so similar. Once the WDC bill is introduced, it would be easy for a Congressional conference committee to marry the two bills and just pass the darn thing, which would send the message to the world everyone desires.
The human rights groups are understandably angry. But they need to wake up and remember how many countries have to pass legislation and coordinate varying cultures and customs before a workable certificate of origin system can be put in place. No one wants more people to die or be maimed, but the Working Group on African Diamonds is striving to reach a solution as quickly as possible.
For more information on contacting U.S. legislators to support WDCs bill, contact Jewelers of America, New York City, (800) 223-0673. JA has developed talking points and other materials that jewelers around the country can use.
Peggy Jo Donahue