Hall’s Well?

The industry has had an up-and-down-though mostly down-relationship with Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), the congressman whose CARAT Act calls for every diamond to be sold with a “certificate of origin.” But now some hope the industry finally has a good working relationship with the mercurial human rights activist.

In October, Hall, accompanied by young victims of Sierra Leone rebels, spoke at a “conflict diamond” demonstration in front of Cartier in New York. Hall says he was motivated by the industry’s campaign against his second version of the CARAT Act-especially a letter sent by Jewelers of America to its members asking them to oppose the bill. (The second act still calls for certification of polished diamonds, although this would be waived if the industry set up a rough certification system.)

Hall was also upset that someone in the industry-not JA-had gone to the House Republican leadership and asked them to block the bill. “The congressman is determined to find out who did that,” says Hall spokeswoman Deborah DeYoung. At the rally, Hall declared that “the gloves are off” and repeatedly assailed the industry for taking too long to enact its certification system.

The demonstration didn’t receive much attention, but for the industry, it proved unexpectedly fruitful. During the rally, World Diamond Council representatives approached Hall, who agreed to a meeting the following week. At first, things were tense: Hall repeated that “the gloves are off” and expressed frustration that the industry was blocking his bill. But the industry took the opportunity to explain its own grievances against Hall. WDC chairman Eli Izhakoff told the congressman that his speech to the Antwerp World Diamond Congress-in which he called on the industry to donate and loan over $1 billion to Sierra Leone as “reparations”-was “awful.” “By calling for reparations, you equated this unfortunate situation with the Holocaust,” he said. “This is an industry with a lot of Holocaust survivors. People were very insulted by what you said.” For the first time, Hall was on the defensive.

From there, the tone changed. Eventually, Hall and the group talked about future legislation that would enact the planned rough diamond certification system, and Izhakoff noted that the WDC had hired the veteran Washington law firm Akin Gump to help with the legalities.

Industry leaders now acknowledge that Hall cannot be ignored, and they’re cautiously optimistic that they can work with him on something that all sides can support. They say he has come around on some key issues. “Originally he had this idea that every single diamond has to be certified, and now he supports the idea of rough controls,” notes Cecilia Gardner, a member of the WDC’s legislative committee. “That’s a major shift.” Still, the congressman-who ran unopposed in his last election-has proved unpredictable in the past, and no one wants to declare a complete abatement of hostilities.

Certainly, Hall’s people aren’t. DeYoung says the CARAT Act will be retooled again and reintroduced next year and will likely include new provisions regarding the establishment of a rough distribution system. There may also be a deadline-possibly a year-for the industry to enact its plan or else face stricter controls, and industry leaders say they can live with this. But Hall isn’t backing down from his plans for a “consumer education” campaign on conflict diamonds-something the industry fears-including “informational leafletings” in cities throughout the United States. “Until there’s action, I don’t think he will be reassured by the industry’s words,” DeYoung says.