Another Exposé on Conflict Diamonds Expected; Industry and Hall Discussing Compromise

June 5, 2001

Another Exposé on Conflict Diamonds Expected; Industry and Hall Discussing Compromise

At an industry forum on the topic of conflict diamonds, World Diamond Council Chairman Eli Izhakoff announced NBC's "Dateline" will air another exposé on conflict diamonds within the next month. Though "Dateline" spoke with Izhakoff and WDC Executive Director Matt Runci, Izhakoff says he expects the program to be negative. Both men presented positive industry progress on the issue, but Izhakoff says it was apparent to him the reporter "was only interested in exposé."

Izhakoff and others raised the issue of "naming and shaming," the process by which the diamond industry "outs" traders in conflict diamonds. Human-rights groups are pressuring the industry to do more, yet Izhakoff says hard evidence of such trade is difficult to come by. "We know that people who take these diamonds out of [conflict areas] don't belong to our bourses – they're not our members." Izhakoff says such diamonds are laundered through three or four exchanges before entering the legitimate diamond pipeline. He says that though there are rumors of conflict traders, facts are unavailable. He says he felt he could not fingerpoint, though reporters begged him to "give us just one name of a person we can catch."

The Antwerp-based Diamond High Council continues to fine-tune the certification system in place between Antwerp and Sierra Leone and Angola, reports Izhakoff. In addition, the Democratic Republic of Congo recently agreed to work with Antwerp on a similar system. Governments will meet again in Moscow in July to continue to the Kimberley Process of coordinating the worldwide certification program, which is still planned to be in place by the end of 2001.

Runci reports the issue of the industry's social responsibility is likely to be the next pressure point human-rights groups will initiate. That there is no industry-wide effort to help victims in conflict areas could be a problem, since Runci says he is beginning to field questions from the media about industry plans in this area.

On the U.S. effort to pass conflict diamond legislation, Runci and Izhakoff announce a renewed opening of dialogue between WDC, which supports U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg's bill, and supporters of U.S. Rep. Tony Hall's similar bill. Both leaders are optimistic the technical differences between the two bills could be ironed out so that industry, human-rights groups and legislators can unite to support one overall bill. The sticking point separating the two bills continues to be Hall's proposal requiring all countries that make diamond jewelry to sign on to an international certification system. WDC says such a dictate is unnecessary and would require more countries to sign on to the certification program, which could slow progress.

Industry leaders also continue to be wary of Hall's proposal that all diamonds and diamond jewelry carry a tag certifying them as conflict-free.

Runci also announces JA is updating some of its conflict diamond training materials for jewelers to use this summer and fall if human-rights groups continue to publicize the issue.

Separately, the Jewelers Charity Fund announced on Sunday it was committing $450,000 over the next two years to a program to fight mother-child transmission of the HIV virus in Africa, where 90% of childhood AIDS victims live. Though the donation does not address the conflict victims, it demonstrates an industry commitment to fighting Africa's biggest public health crisis.

- by Peggy Jo Donahue