‘Conflict’ Bills May See Compromise

The industry and Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) are negotiating a compromise between the two conflict diamond bills currently pending.

“We are cautiously optimistic [that] we will come to an agreement,” said World Diamond Council legislative director Matthew A. Runci, at a forum at the recent JCK Show in Las Vegas. “The signs are encouraging at the moment. Getting this done as soon as possible is in the industry’s interest.”

Having all sides agree—including the industry and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—is considered crucial to passing legislation.

Runci said the two sides, which have been at odds for most of the spring, are talking again because “this is the mid-point in the legislative year, and this is the time to get things done.”

At press time, the opponents were officially backing different bills. The industry had thrown its weight behind the “Conflict Diamonds Act of 2001,” introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and based on a proposal originally drafted by the World Diamond Council. Hall and his NGO allies favor the “Clean Diamond Act,” which is being introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), and Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). Hall’s House measure currently has the support of more than 100 members of Congress.

According to those involved in the negotiations, any compromise will likely be patterned more after the Hall bill than the Gregg bill.

Both bills try to limit the trade in conflict stones by allowing imports only from countries with rough controls. The bills differ on the time period for compliance, standards for compliance, and whether diamond jewelry producers should be made to comply with the rough certification system.

The industry also disagrees with Hall’s proposal to tag polished stones as “conflict-free,” saying it’s unnecessary once the new system is established.

Industry leaders say their approach is more “international,” while the NGOs say the WDC proposal is full of “loopholes.” (To compare the two bills, go to http://thomas.loc.gov and type in “conflict diamonds” under “word/phrase.” Sen. Gregg’s bill is S787; Rep. Hall’s is HR 918.)

At the Vegas forum, WDC members were relieved that the two parties were talking, as they felt continued squabbling would raise the issue’s profile and hurt the diamond market. Price sheet publisher Martin Rapaport, a WDC member, even urged the industry in a speech to support a revamped version of Hall’s bill.

Certainly, conflict diamond awareness effort has reached a more dangerous stage. Christian NGO World Vision recently released the first conflict diamond commercial, featuring a voiceover by West Wing star Martin Sheen. (See “Martin Sheen Appears on Conflict Diamonds Ad.”) And, at a pre-Mother’s Day “Interfaith Meeting on Conflict Diamonds,” carried live on cable network C-SPAN 2, Hall and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) urged religious leaders to inform their congregants about the issue. The meeting included representatives of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and the National Association of Evangelicals.

Hall said no one wants a boycott of diamonds, but he also advised consumers not to buy a stone if the jeweler doesn’t know its origin. Since the origin of few stones is specified, some worry that this would be tantamount to a boycott.

“[The industry has] to know that we are not going away,” Hall said, “and if more Americans find out about this, this will go the way of fur, and we don’t want that. If we educate Americans, we’ll stop this. If we don’t educate Americans, they’ll win and they’ll have the best lobbyists … You think people know about this? They don’t. And the church community, the religious community, have to play a part [in educating people.]” At the Vegas forum, WDC president Eli Izhakoff announced that the organization is hiring a public relations firm in response to the drubbing the industry received on 60 Minutes, PrimeTime Live, and a multi-part segment on New York station WABC-TV. The WDC is also anticipating negative reaction to a piece scheduled for this month on Dateline NBC —a segment touching upon conflict diamonds in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The government of Botswana has already retained public relations firm Hill and Knowlton to spread the word about how diamonds aid in Africa’s development. The campaign recently erected a Web site, www.diamondsfordevelopment.com.