Conflict Diamonds: Let's Help Sierra Leone Recover Now
Judging from my mail and discussions with jewelers, awareness of conflict diamonds is growing. Yet a recent study by J. Walter Thompson, De Beers advertising and public relations agency, shows that even after the hatchet job 60 Minutes did on the industry in February, consumers still dont judge the industry too harshly.
The latest TV exposé follows months of shows and articles about the horrors diamond wars have caused, especially in Sierra Leone. Yet 63% of consumers said the diamond industry still has products they wouldnt hesitate to buy. Apparently, their passion for diamonds outweighs their concern about human rights.
What explains jewelers growing concern about the issue, even though their customers dont seem to care? I think its because jewelers do care about human rights. Even though they know most of the shows and articles have left out key facts, they know the basics are true. To use the most vivid example, Sierra Leones war would not exist if not for diamonds, even though they are only a small drop in the world supply bucket. Knowing diamonds drive such barbarism pains jewelers immeasurably.
The letters and calls Ive received from angry and guilt-ridden jewelers dont criticize the World Diamond Council and its efforts. On the contrary, jewelers are proud of what the council has done and that it wont give up until an international certification program to ban conflict diamonds is in place. What upsets them is that so little has been done to help the victims, especially Sierra Leones children. One jeweler asked in desperation what De Beers has done. I explained De Beers hasnt done business in Sierra Leone in over 15 years, but he persisted: They did business in Sierra Leone for years before that. Dont they owe the people there more humanitarian help because of the profits they made there in the past?
I couldnt answer. De Beers is in no way responsible for the butchery in Sierra Leone, but I wondered about a company that is so rich and so philanthropic in the countries where it currently does business.
But what can we do? Ive twice suggested Sierra Leone-oriented charities to which jewelers could contribute (p. 14, July 2000, and p. 12, December 2000), but I wonder whether the industrys efforts should be more coordinated and widespread. The industry has a Jewelers Charity Fund that raises money for ill children. Dont get me wrong the benefiting charities are all deserving. But perhaps its time to direct some money to benefit Sierra Leone also. Those of us who benefit from diamonds (including me) are not responsible for the debacle of Sierra Leone, but we still want to help the victims. If youd like to suggest the Jewelers Charity Fund get involved, call the organization at (703) 433-0308, fax (703) 433-0318, JewelersCharity@aol.com.
by Peggy Jo Donahue