Hall, NGOs Stage Second Protest

Congressman Tony Hall (D-Ohio) and a group of nongovernmental organizations recently held a second anti-“conflict diamonds” demonstration, this time in front of a Tiffany’s in the Washington, D.C., metro area in December.

The Chevy Chase, Md., rally lasted two hours and attracted about 125 demonstrators, most of whom were volunteers and workers from organizations that included Amnesty International, Oxfam, World Vision, and Physicians for Human Rights, one of the demonstration’s organizers. Although the organizers made a determined attempt to attract local media, only a few reporters attended, including one from Cox Newspapers, a local radio station representative, and a syndicated columnist from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Associated Press also wrote about the event, although the story appeared before the rally was held.

Rep. Hall and Amnesty International held a similar rally in front of a New York Cartier store in November. That event attracted slightly more media attention and included four young girls whose limbs had been amputated by Sierra Leone rebels.

In a press release, Hall continued his assault on the industry, declaring that 30% of “the industry’s profits” come from conflict diamonds-a number even most human rights activists think is wildly inflated. “At long last, industry insiders-worried that the smell of blood on this luxury product will hurt their business-are playing catch-up,” he said. “So far, though, it’s been a lot of talk and not much follow-through.

“Americans-the world’s largest consumer of diamonds-ought to exercise their consumer muscle by letting jewelers know we don’t want to be a part of this blood trade,” he continued. “They don’t have to stop buying all diamonds, because that could hurt countries like South Africa that depend on the legitimate trade. But consumers could make an enormous difference if they asked every jeweler in the nation three questions: ‘Where was this diamond mined?’ ‘Am I contributing to the bloodshed in Africa?’ and ‘What are you doing to stop this blood trade?'”

In a statement, Tiffany said it was working to eliminate conflict diamonds. “Our firm policy is to do no business with any suppliers dealing in conflict diamonds,” the statement said. “More than a year a ago, we informed all our vendors of this policy.” The statement also noted that it was supporting international efforts toward a conflict diamond ban.

Holly Burkhalter, advocacy director for Physicians for Human Rights, says Tiffany was chosen in part because it led opposition to the NGO-favored Conflict Diamond Elimination Act. However, Tiffany spokeswoman Linda Buckley says that “we suggest the opinion of others has had more weight.” Another prominent NGO active on the issue also thinks the demonstrators chose the wrong target: “Tiffany is one of the few companies that is really trying to see that they don’t buy conflict stones,” says Alex Yearsley of Global Witness.

The demonstrators handed out postcards addressed to Zale, Wal-Mart, and Tiffany. The postcards urge the retailers to support Hall’s Conflict Diamonds Elimination Act and to mandate that all their suppliers sell “conflict-free” diamonds. (The full text of the postcards can be seen at www.phrusa.org/campaigns/sierra_leone/rally_letter112900.html.) Buckley says that Tiffany has received almost 200 postcards so far, and he notes that all of the letter-writers received a response reiterating the retailer’s opposition to conflict stones.

All told, Tiffany doesn’t believe business was affected by the demonstration. Still, Buckley adds, “It’s always disturbing to have 125 protesters outside our store.”