State Department Expresses Impatience With Diamond Industry at Meeting

State Department officials at times expressed “impatience” with the pace of industry reform efforts at a March 12 meeting at its Washington, D.C., headquarters, attendees told me.

“The tone at points made us a little uncomfortable,” said one attendee. Agreed another: “There were moments of tension and frustration.” A third said the NGO representatives in attendance occasionally appeared more conciliatory toward the industry than Jose Fernandez, the assistant secretary of economic and business affairs who ran the afternoon session.

Despite the occasional moment of discord, most called the meeting a positive exchange of ideas, with just about everyone agreeing that the industry needs to do something more than the Kimberley Process. 

“One thing they kept coming back to,” said one source, “is why the Responsible Jewellery Council can develop a chain of custody for gold but not for diamonds.”

Some officials did say they appreciated the industry developing its own diamond sourcing programs that go above and beyond the KP. Among those outlined and discussed in the morning session were the RJC’s proposed chain of custody for diamonds, the Diamond Source Warranty Protocol, and Martin Rapaport’s proposed tracking and ethical certification system. A Forevermark representative also talked about his brand’s system. The World Diamond Council’s chain of custody program, the System of Warranties, “wasn’t much discussed,” as one attendee put it.

Of course, with the exception of Forevermark, most of those initiatives are in their beginning stages or still being formulated. Fernandez in particular expressed a desire for a faster rate of change.

“I think the State Department is anxious to see stakeholders coalesce around a particular solution,” said one group member. “Obviously all these things are going to take time. There are a lot of underlying problems and challenges. But they wanted to get the ball rolling.”

“Things clearly aren’t crystalizing as fast as the State Department would like,” said another. “They are seeing a very fragmented conversation, and they wanted to step up and lead the conversation.” 

One industry member expressed some “confusion” with what the State Department wanted: “They kept saying the industry needs to do more, but there wasn’t a lot of clarity about what that was.”

A few attendees thought the issue of diamond and other gemstone sourcing would be taken up at the forthcoming meeting of the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in Paris. The OECD has done a lot on work of gold tracking.  

The meeting went beyond the usual groups and companies that traditionally have attended State Department meetings on these issues, such as Jewelers of America, the Diamond Manufacturers and Importers of America, Tiffany & Co., and Signet—although they all were in attendance. Also there last week were the National Retail Federation; the RJC; Graff; Rapaport; Wal-Mart; Leber Jeweler; Borsheim’s; Fred Meyer Jewelers; Brilliant Earth; Cartier; the Retail Industry Leaders Association; environmental consultant Tetra Tech; Almod Diamonds; Forevermark; and NGOs Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada. J.C. Penney, Sears, and Blue Nile also attended via phone. 

JCK News Director